by Jim Bulls
The history of the Hotel Burgess lies not only in her turn of the century architecture or in the locally made bricks of her walls, but in the people whose lives touched hers. It all starts in 1889 when one of Reedley’s earliest residents came to town.
Mr. Harry Winnes was a carpenter by trade when he arrived in Reedley in 1889, but he soon ventured out into new directions. An avid skater, he first built a roller skating rink in Reedley, and then opened a funeral parlor in Parlier. His next venture was into banking as one of the founding contributors of the First National Bank. He would hold various positions with the bank; at the time of his death, he was bank director.
Winnes opened a small mercantile store and by 1894, he was operating the Harry Winnes Furniture and Mercantile Store on the southwest corner of 11th & G Streets. By 1900, his real estate holdings within the city had grown to include two corners on 11th & G Streets, as well as several businesses. The first floor of the white wooden building housed the furniture and mercantile store, while the second floor was run as a rooming house. This building was one of only a few wooden buildings that survived the great fire of 1910.
In 1912, Winnes hung banners on the furniture and mercantile store proclaiming “I QUIT! Going Out of Business—All Stock Half Price!” When the store was empty, the entire building was razed to make way for Winnes’ new business venture: a modern hotel. On August 8, 1918, Harry Winnes opened the doors to a brand new, two-story building, with store fronts located on the ground level and hotel rooms with baths and steam heat on the second floor. Atop the hotel, facing the north entry to town, was a sign with big block letters that read “Hotel Winnes.”
In less than a year this early Reedley entrepreneur died, leaving an estate in excess of $300,000. He also left substantial holdings of real estate throughout Reedley. His widow Anna ran the hotel at least through 1922, when the Reedley Exponent reports that she remodeled several rooms and added a lobby on 11th Street.
Between 1917 and the 1940s the Hotel Winnes had two distinguished visitors from Korea: Ahn Chang-Ho and Syngman Rhee. Ahn was a Korean independence activist and one of the early leaders of the Korean-American immigrants in the United States. He protested the Japanese occupation of Korea and is believed to have written the lyrics of the South Korean national anthem. Rhee was the first president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, and then the first president of South Korea.
Rhee and Ahn, although both supporters of independence for South Korea, did not see eye to eye, so it is doubtful that they ever visited at the same time. A plaque commemorating their visits hangs in the Presidential Suite of the current Hotel Burgess.
The next recorded owner of the hotel was William Bloyd, Sr. who owned the office building facing G Street, next door to the hotel building. Bloyd, Sr. had his insurance office on the ground floor and rented out offices on the second floor. He kept the original name Hotel Winnes, and continued to operate it as a hotel, but he leased the ground floor out to other businesses. Over the years these have included a furniture store, skating rink, bank, and flower shop. Kenmor Jewelers operated out of the main business suite (corner of G & 11th Streets) from the 1940s through the early 1990s.
When I moved to Reedley Mr. Bloyd’s son William “Bill” Bloyd, Jr. was away at law school, where he met fellow student and ex-Las Vegas showgirl, Myrtle Burgess. A romance blossomed. After graduation the newlyweds returned to Reedley, remodeled the offices over the insurance office and hung out their shingles. Their law business grew, but unfortunately their marriage didn’t.
On the Reedley gossip scale, the breakup of Bill Jr. and Myrtle ranked as the story of the century, when she took him to the proverbial “cleaners.” The spoils of war netted Myrtle her father-in-law’s office building, the Hotel Winnes building, the Canary Apartments and the couple’s home on Kady Avenue. Bill Jr. was able to keep his father’s home and a city lot where he built a new law office.
Myrtle Burgess loved to travel and had a unique way of planning when to take a trip. Most folks plan around the weather or the calendar, but Burgess planned around the tax collector. She knew just how much money she could make before moving into the next tax bracket, so when she reached the magic number, she stopped working for the rest of the year and traveled. Over time, she had collected so many souvenirs, artifacts and antiques from her travels that she was running out of room to display them.
In the mid-1970s, Burgess decided to remodel the old Hotel Winnes and began by changing its name to the Hotel Burgess. The hotel rooms were decorated with an international flair, using her huge collection of world-wide souvenirs and representing some of her favorite vacations. The Polynesian Room, the Moroccan Room and the Taj Mahal Suite were a few of the “exotic” locations where one could stay while visiting the Hotel Burgess.
There were also several rooms decorated in turn-of-the-century style and generically referred to as the Victorian Rooms. Burgess revamped the lobby area and installed a huge stained glass window depicting bunches of grapes hanging over vibrant orange poppies.
I still fondly recall the image of Myrtle Burgess striding down the sidewalk wearing her full-length mink coat, her jet-black hair wrapped in a 1940s-style chignon. She maintained her “showgirl” figure well into her later life. Bill Jr. practiced law in Reedley until his retirement. After the death of his second wife, he moved to Reno to be close to his sons.
Myrtle Burgess passed away in June 1998. In 2003, Michael Jackson of Kingsburg purchased the Hotel Burgess building from the Myrtle Burgess estate and began a complete renovation. Jackson, a collector and fan of the Victorian Era, always dreamed of restoring a turn-of-the-century building. The building needed a lot of work to bring it up to today’s standards.
Under phase one of the renovation, Jackson has completed 19 luxurious rooms and suites reminiscent of the Victorian Era. All rooms have contemporary amenities such as high-definition plasma TVs, internet connections and deluxe, high-thread-count bedding. All of the antiques and collectibles located throughout the hotel are for sale, so if you love waking up in that big brass bed, you can actually buy it and take it home.
The two-story, 20,000 square foot historical building is now considered to be a “living museum” with the Hotel Burgess Bed and Breakfast the focal point. Initially, Jackson opened a café in the office suite, with plans to enlarge it to a steakhouse and bar. Unfortunately, the current recession made it impractical to carry out those plans, and eventually Jackson closed the Café Burgess. He does have plans for continued renovations when the time is right.
Jackson is grateful to be a part of the Reedley community and has “great hopes and visions” for the future of the Hotel Burgess. Hopefully this recession will end soon, because I can’t wait to see what he does next or what the future holds for what is (I believe) Reedley’s only continuously operating hotel: 93 years (1918 through present).
To learn more about the current Hotel Burgess you can visit their website.