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Southern Pacific Hotel hosted Hollywood celebrities

GUY H. COATES, Special to the Sun

Southern Pacific Railroad built a hotel to house off-duty train crews and excursion train passengers in Truckee circa 1904.

For many years the Southern Pacific Hotel was managed by Wilbur Maynard and its guests included a number of Hollywood celebrities who stayed in Truckee while making films in the area.

The Chamber of Commerce and Southern Pacific delegated Maynard as the best person to bring much needed business to town by encouraging film making in the area. Maynard is credited for bringing dozens of film companies to town during the 1920s and 1930s. During this period, film stars, such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Clark Gable were a common sight in Truckee’s bars, restaurants and hotels.

Longtime resident Nels Stone fondly recalls the old hotel.

“It was an elaborate place, with beautiful stairways and fancy woodwork,” said Stone. “Doctor Nelson had his office in the hotel.” There was also a gift shop and a covered walkway where passengers could rest in the shade while waiting for the train to arrive.

The S.P. Hotel represented a classic example of early 20th century Truckee architecture. It is the first building that most visitors saw as they stepped off the train.

“It was painted in Southern Pacific’s traditional logo colors,” recalls Stone. “Yellow with brown trim were the colors that identified buildings owned by the railroad.”

The few S.P. buildings that remain today still fly the old colors.

With the decline of passenger service and the introduction of diesel engines, the hotel became unprofitable and Southern Pacific closed it up and slated it for demolition in 1955.

“I was sorry to see it shut down,” said Stone. “It was such an important landmark in town for many years.”

In 1956, an attempt was made to save the old landmark when it was moved in two sections to the site of today’s downtown post office.

“They sawed it in half, right down the middle,” said Stone. “The two halves sat on that lot for years but they never reopened it and it became a haven for transients.”

One cold evening in 1963, the town was awakened to the sound of fire engines which found the old hotel in flames from a fire most likely set by a transient.

“They found a man’s body laying in one of the bathtubs,” Stone said. “After that, they removed the debris and began construction on the new post office.”

In the background of this photo, P.M. Doyle’s Dry Goods and Clothing store can be seen. For many years the store was located where The Cooking Gallery stands today.

Paul M. Doyle came to Truckee in 1890 from San Francisco and worked as a clerk in the J.L. Lewiston Mercantile store. In 1900 he purchased the business, giving the store his name. Doyle became a prominent and influential businessman in town until in 1912 when he was involved in a gunfight with W.M. Smith, editor of the Truckee Republican during which Smith was killed. Doyle was defended by Truckee attorney, C.F. McGlashan in a highly publicized trial and acquitted of a crime of which many believed he was guilty.

Following the trial Doyle left town and settled in Dixon, Calif., where he became a dairy farmer until his death in 1943.


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