by Jim Bulls
By the 1890s, the little town of Reedley had grown enough that the town site developer hired by the Pacific Land and Improvement Company suggested building a new hotel. This would be the first brick business building on G Street. Constructed by the Betteridge Company of Visalia for the sum of $23,000, the building stood five stories high at the tower, with verandas off each room. It opened for business in 1892 and was an attractive lure for prospective residents.
Since this was the second hotel in Reedley, it was initially named the New Reedley Hotel. Somehow this didn’t seem grand enough for such a substantial building, so at some point the hotel became the Arlington. Later it was known as the Park Hotel when a park was added to the south side of the building. By the time George Besaw photographed the hotel it was known as the Hotel Grand. The record of ownership is not very clear, but we do know that in 1919 the Manoogian family bought the hotel.
There wasn’t a lot of competition for the new hotel. In 1910 the original Reedley Hotel, also known as Ma Simpson’s, burned to the ground along with Green’s Pharmacy. The Reedley Hotel was rebuilt by 1912 using the original blueprints. The biggest competition came in 1918 when the Hotel Winnes was finished.
In 1929, a devastating fire broke out in the Hotel Grand; a fire that caused the city fathers to realize that Reedley needed a fire truck capable of “modern” fire fighting. In 1932, the Seagraves fire truck was delivered and in 1933 Prohibition was repealed. This is important because the truth could finally be revealed about how the fire at the hotel actually started. There was a still in the tower that was being used to brew Armenian “Rocky”–a counterpart to “white lightening.”
All buildings have character through their architecture, but it is the people who breathe life into the buildings and how those people have touched others around them. This brings us to my arrival in town and meeting the people who brought the Hotel Grand building to life.
The ground floor of the building was broken up into several businesses. The Santa Fe Market was run by Albert and George Hagopian, Charlie Manoogian ran an auto repair shop at the end of the hotel, next to the alley, Geneva’s Cafe was located in the old hotel bath house. Every day Lincoln Hagopian would don his butcher’s apron and keep busy sweeping the sidewalk around the hotel. Model T Sam always parked his car near Manoogian’s auto repair in case he needed help getting it started.
I discovered Manoogian’s in 1950. He had antique engines on a shelf around the shop that he could run on air pressure and he always had a few minutes to spare for an inquisitive little kid. The Greyhound Bus depot was in the hotel at that time and this was always interesting to watch, especially when they delivered freight. By this time Ray Montez had opened up El Monte Mexican Restaurant. Ray always participated in every Fiesta parade, riding his highly trained Appaloosa horse and wearing the traditional vaquero dress. Through the years various members of the Montez family have run the restaurant. It is currently owned by Jerry Montez. The Santa Fe Market lasted 40 years, but El Monte Cafe represents the longest tenant at the Hotel Grand, 52 years and counting.
Floyd Hammond had his lock smith shop in the part of the hotel where Geneva’s Cafe was, and for a short time after the Santa Fe Market closed, an auto agency was in the building. They sold electric cars, or actually more like glorified golf carts, compared to any electric car known today.
Other businesses include the late Ron Whisenall’s collectibles store and Tuttle’s ice cream parlor. The only thing I remember about the second story is that a lady and her son Lyle lived in the corner room above the double doors. She had a canary that filled the street with song on a warm summer’s night.
A new era for the hotel started when it was purchased by Harry Horasanian from the Manoogians. Harry, a contractor by trade, ventured into the restaurant business featuring Armenian cuisine. Word got around and people like Coach Tarkanian and Blackie Gejeian would drop by for dinner. One day Huell Howser showed up and put Uncle Harry’s Classic Meals on the map.
Harry told me that in addition to the still in the tower of the hotel, there was also a tunnel. A stairwell for housekeeping use, unknown to the general public, ran from the tower to the attic and then down into the basement. The tunnel entrance was disguised as a freight elevator. The tunnel crossed 12th Street and led to a large out house across the alley. No one would ever disturb your privacy as you went to the restroom, while in reality you were buying moonshine alcohol. During a rainy season years after Prohibition had ended, the tunnel caved in and the City filled it up and cemented the opening under the hotel shut.
Next time you stop in to Uncle Harry’s or El Monte Cafe for good food and friends, pause to think a bit about some of the stories about Reedley’s long forgotten past.