Have You Seen
The Hotel Palmyra
The Hotel Palmyra, 1907. The kitchen wing is in the rear – notice the solar water heater panel on the roof.

In the late 1880s, Southern California experienced its biggest real estate boom ever. In less than two years, scores of new towns were founded, and the population exploded. This was the era when the City of Orange was incorporated (1888) and the County of Orange formed (1889).

The boom began with a rate war between the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads. Bargain fares brought thousands of winter tourists to sunny Southern California, where real estate agents and developers were waiting to greet them with open arms. And to make sure they had a nice visit, grand tourist hotels were built throughout the Southland (the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego is perhaps the most famous).

In Orange, the pride of the boom was the Hotel Palmyra. C.Z. Culver, a local rancher-turned-developer, lured a group of investors in Palmyra, New York, to back the project. Some of them came to live here in Orange; others never even saw the place.

The hotel opened in July 1887 at the southeast corner of Glassell and Palmyra. The two-story building boasted 24 rooms, a dining room and a full kitchen. There was indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water and even a few electric lights. All that luxury was said to have cost $40,000.

Culver also subdivided the land around the hotel, built some small cottages and one grand Victorian mansion, which served as an annex to the hotel.

But as they always do, the boom soon went bust. Faced with a massive debt, Culver took the easy way out - he skipped to Mexico in 1888. His creditors got exactly 8½ cents on the dollar.

The Palmyra passed into other hands and limped along until 1914, when it was converted to apartments. Much of the southern end of the building was torn down around that time. The last of the tenants moved out in the late 1950s, and the rest of the historic building was torn down in 1970. Today, a senior apartment complex called The Palmyra occupies the site. There’s a bicentennial historical marker near the fountain out front.

If you go to visit, take the time to walk down to Grand Street where the hotel annex still stands at 205 E. Palmyra. Just north of it is another 1880s Culver building, which has recently been restored. A couple of the little cottages on the 300 block of South Orange may also have been built by Culver.

Published in the Nov/Dec 2012 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Phil Brigandi, Photo courtesy of the Orange Public Library and History Center
Colorized by the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

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