AKA: Bella Union Hotel, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA; Clarendon Hotel, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - courthouses

Designers: [unspecified]

Dates: constructed 1835, demolished 1957

3 stories

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314 North Main Street
Downtown, Los Angeles, CA 90012-2830

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Los Angeles County Courthouse #1/Bella Union Hotel

Building History

Isaac Williams (1799-1856), a native of Scranton, PA, resided in OH and MO, before joining an expedition to NM in 1823. He came to Southern CA in 1832, as part of fur-trapping party hunting sea otters. In 1835, he bought a Los Angeles pueblo land parcel on North Main Street between Commercial Street and Arcadia Street, that also had street frontage on Los Angeles Street. At this time, the City of Angels was nothing more than a hamlet, that "...boasted seven bar rooms, thirteen stores, and one billiard table." (Krythe, p. 38.) On this land, Williams commissioned three Anglo acquaintances to erect a one-story adobe. Historian Krythe indicated that the men "...were William Wolfskill (the first Angeleno to raise oranges commercially), who supervised the making of the adobe bricks and the box wall; while Joseph Paulding and Richard Laughlin did the carpenter work." (p. 38) Within the walled property's main adobe, Williams made his residence and a general store. Early on, it became a social center for the sleepy town and a key retailer of goods shipped from the East Coast. In 1839, Williams married Maria de Jesus Lugo, daughter of the landowner Antonio Maria Lugo, who controlled the extensive Rancho Santa Ana del Chino in San Bernardino County. Williams would go on to manage the rancho for his father-in-law. Mexican Governor Pío de Jesús Pico (1801–1894) stayed here in 1846 when he briefly relocated the state capital to Los Angeles (from Monterey). Two years later, officers of the invading Union Army made the adobe their command center in their short war against the ragtag Californian forces. While CA was governed by the military from 1847-1849, some Anglo landowners were quick to claim rightful and not so rightful property; Isaac Williams came back to claim his 1835 adobe house. He quickly sold it in 04/1849 to his friend Benjamin Davis "Don Benito" Wilson (1811-1878), who renovated the store into an "upscale" hotel, complete with a saloon and French restaurant.

A year later or so, the complex was co-owned by two VA-born physicians, James Brown Winston (1820–1884), who ran the hotel with his wife, and Alpheus P. Hodges (1821-1858), who, at age 28, served simultaneously as Los Angeles's Mayor and Coroner. At this time, rooms of the hotel were tiny, less than 6 by 9 feet and dirt-floored. Another physician, Obediah Macy (1801–1857), born in NC, purchased the hotel in 1853 from Winston and Hodges. Macy and his son, Oscar, (1829-1910), who would go on to a long political career in LA, owned it until the former's death. It served as the western terminus point (on 10/07/1858) for the Butterfield Overland Mail express rider traveling by horseback from Saint Louis to Los Angeles in 21 days. Around 1860, The Bella Union Hotel was a significant gathering spot for Los Angelenos, partly because of the stage coach stop, but also because it had some of the few shade trees that could provide relief from the sun. The hotel hosted a champagne celebration marking the first telegraph transmission between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1860. Henry Hammel (d. 1890) bought the Bella Union for a brief time, c. 1862, before departing for the Kern County gold rush. In Havilah, CA, he and a partner, Andrew Denker (1840–1892), opened another notable Bella Union Hotel in 1864. (Hammel and Denker returned to Los Angeles by 1868, and operated two other LA hotels, the United States and the Cosmopolitan.)

Subsequent owners renamed the hotel twice, first to the "Clarendon Hotel" in 1873 and then the "Saint Charles Hotel" in 1875. Its reputation and clientele deteriorated by the twentieth century. In its last days, the Bella Union housed a skid row hotel and had a first floor Mexican restaurant.

Building Notes

The first Los Angeles County Court, utilized space in the Bella Union Hotel as its first meeting place between 1850-1851. Historian Maymie Krythe wrote in 1951: "The Bella Union served as the original county court house until October, 1851. The first meeting of this court opened on June 24, 1850, with Judge Olvera presiding." (See Maymie R. Krythe "First Hotel of Old Los Angeles: The Romantic Bella Union," The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 1, 03/1951, p. 37-59.) The California State Park Commission commemorated the of site of the Bella Union Hotel on 10/07/1958 by making it California Registered Historical Landmark #656.

On 10/07/1858, William Butterfield's Butterfield Overland Mail stage coach operation first arrived at the Bella Union Hotel from Saint Louis, MO; it would make the hotel its first Los Angeles terminus point during its operations.

In 01/1875, T. Scally served as the proprietor of the Saint Charles Hotel and Restaurant. (See "Saint Charles Restaurant Ad," Los Angeles Daily Herald, vol III, no. 102, 01/27/1875, p. 2.)

The Western Union Company, a leading telegraph operator, maintained an office in the Saint Charles Hotel, beginning in 1875. The Los Angeles Daily Herald reported: "The Western Union Telegraph Company will soon remove to Fleishman's old store, in the St. Charles Hotel." (See "Local Brevities," Los Angeles Daily Herald, vol. IV, no. 121, 08/14/1875, p. 3.)


Owners Winston and Hodges added a stone-faced brick second story on top of the adobe first floor in 1851.

A stone-faced third floor was added to the hotel about 1869, as the accommodations of the Bella Union were becoming more civilized. At the same time, the last remnants of Isaac Williams's first adobe were removed. A newspaper story in the Los Angeles Daily Heraldnoted in 1875: "The owner of the St. Charles Hotel is considering the project of building a third story to the two-story part of that hotel." (See "Local Brevities," Los Angeles Daily Herald, vol. 4, no. 54, 05/28/1875, p. 3.)


The building was demolished in the Spring of 1957, and replaced by a parking lot.

California Historical Landmark: 656

PCAD id: 238