Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hidden History of the Hotel Ryde- Part 2

Ryde Hotel, Walnut Grove, CA

In the last article (Part 1), I spoke about the beginning of Ryde (the community), the origins of the Hotel Ryde and how the original hotel burned down in the fire of 1911.  So what happened after the fire?

Well, after the Giusti family moved their business across the river to the Miller's Ferry Station, the remaining residents of Ryde started rebuilding their businesses.

The 2nd Hotel Ryde

2nd Hotel Ryde (Ad)
Let me first state this, the Ryde Hotel that stands today is not the original hotel, nor does it sit on the original spot that the first or second hotel stood. In fact, the parking lot of the current Ryde Hotel (just south of the hotel) is where both the original and 2nd hotel's once stood.  I spoke to lifetime resident and local historian, Dennis Leary in depth about his life in Ryde and he told me that the 2nd building that was used as the Hotel Ryde was rebuilt on the same spot as the original. When he bought the property in the 1970s, the building was still there but hadn't been used as the hotel since the mid-1920s.

I could not find any documents that state exactly when the 2nd building was erected, however it was rebuilt sometime before the 1920s, because I found some really interesting stories that took place at the Ryde during that time period. From what I read in old periodicals and what Mr. Leary told me, the hotel was rebuilt and run by the Gianetti family. Some accounts state that Joe Miller had the hotel rebuilt and he then leased it to the Gianetti family, while others stated the Gianetti family rebuilt the hotel.

Also, Remember, the current Hotel Ryde wasn't opened until 1927, so the stories you are about to read took place in the hotel that is no longer standing. If you go stand in the parking lot of the current Ryde Hotel, you will be standing in the vicinity where these next few stories took place.

Murder or Self-Defense?

Literally just days before the onset of the Prohibition Era in California, the Hotel Ryde saw a very tragic and scary incident take place in their saloon. On January 2, 1920, after two guests had one too many drinks in the bar area, the bartender Orlando Fontanini told the two patrons, Alex and Gunnar Johnson that they needed to leave. Of course, that didn't sit well with Alex and he grew angry. The bartender continued persisting that it was time for both of them to leave but that wasn't going to be the case. Instead Alex and Gunnar decided to jump over the counter at the bar and proceeded to attack the bartender, choking him. During the scuffle the bartender reached for his gun he kept under the bar and he shot Alex Johnson in self defense, killing him. Although, he adamantly stated that his life was at risk and he was only defending himself, Fontanini was charged with Alex Johnson's murder and was taken to jail. Gunnar Johnson was held as a witness.

Sausalito News (January 10, 1920)-
(See Photo)

"Sacramento--- Alex Johnston (typo), a carpenter, formerly residing in San Francisco at 3470 Twentieth Street, was shot and killed January 2 during a quarrel in the barroom of the Hotel Ryde at Ryde, Sacramento county. Orlando Fontanini, bartender at the hotel, was arrested and charged with murder. He said Alex Johnston and Gunnar Johnston, a companion had attacked him when he ordered them from the place. Fontanini said he shot in self-defense as he was being choked. Gunnar Johnston is being held as a witness.--"

Sacramento Bee (January 13, 1920)--
"The killing in Ryde January 1st of Alex JOHNSON was investigated and a verdict of death resulting from a gunshot wound inflicted by Orlando FONTANINI, was brought in. FONTANINI, who was a bartender at the Ryde Hotel, shot JOHNSON following an argument over the claring of the saloon. The bartender claimed he shot in self-defense after being attacked. He declared when he tried to close the place JOHNSON became abusive and attacked him. He said one of the men grabbed him by the throat and during the scuffle, he fired a revolver."

I looked into the story further and couldn't find whether or not Fontanini was later freed or if they convicted him of the charges.  Honestly, he shows up in the 1920 Census as being a servant for the Gianetti household, but then he drops off from any public records. The possible misspelling of the names Johnson and Johnston in various news clippings is actually quite common for the time period. However, according to the San Francisco Directory for 1920, Gunnar Johnson is listed. So now, we have the correct spelling of their Surname.

Prohibition and Scandal at the Ryde- 1923

By 1923, the Ryde Hotel was in the papers again. This time it was for violating Prohibition laws by serving alcohol to their guests. According to the Lodi Sentinel (November 13, 1923) some federal agents stopped by the Ryde to enjoy dinner in the restaurant. While they were there, they noticed that the restaurant was serving alcohol. Three men who were guests at the hotel confronted one of the three officers when they overheard them talking about the fact the restaurant was violating the law.  One of the men walked up to the officer and accused him of being law enforcement, to which Officer Charlton admitted. The guy then demanded to see his badge. When Charlton showed him the badge, the man reached over, grabbed a bottle of alcohol and broke it over the officer's head. This injury cut him severely and he was in bad need of medical attention. Officer Edmund Hemphill ran out to his car and retrieved his gun and held the men who instigated the fight at bay until back up arrived.

Warrants were issued by the U.S. Commissioner, Gerald Beatty and then federal officers along with Sheriff Eaton Blanchard then arrested the three men from the fight: Allan Eldred, Clay Locke and William Donahue. They also arrested Mrs. Gianetti (the Proprietess) and a waiter (who was serving alcohol) Nick Camicia.  They were all charged with, Conspiracy to violate Prohibition Law, Interfering with Government Officers, Destroying evidence, and Assault of Government Officers.

Mrs. Gianetti and Nick Camicia were released immediately on a $1,000 bond, while the three other men were held on a $10,000 bond. Clay Locke obtained his bail within a few hours. Clay Locke was the son of George Granville Locke. Clay's grandfather was George W. Locke, for which the town of Locke was named after. Clay's father, George Jr., was the one who allowed the town to be built on the edge of the Locke Estate and there it sits today as a reminder of an old Ghost Town that once was a bustling little city. Although the records I have found to date show the town of Locke to be a small community early on (around 1916),  by the 1930's it was full of diverse cultures including Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Filipino, Mexican, Swedish, German, Hawaiian, Japanese, and Caucasian Americans, As the years passed, people came and went, but that little town remained.

Photo shows 2nd structure and 3rd structure side by side (Circa 1927)
 The Hotel Moves

So sometime in the mid-1920s the newer (3rd) Ryde Hotel was built. This is the current hotel that still stands today. It is said to have been built in 1926 and opened in 1927. What happened to the 2nd Ryde Hotel? Well, after they had built a new one just yards away, north of the property, the old hotel building was then used for other various businesses including "Ryde Electric" and an insurance company.

The current hotel has seen many owners throughout the years. Many reports even claim that Hollywood's "Wolf Man", Lon Chaney, Jr. and his family owned it at one point in time.  The hotel was also said to have an underground tunnel that had stills for brewing wine, gin and whiskey during Prohibition. There was also rumors the very underground tunnel also led to the river for guests to be able escape undetected into the night, in the instance that there was a raid. The lower level of the hotel had a 'speakeasy' and offered music and booze to their guests (as long as you weren't a cop!)

Actor, Lon Chaney, Jr.
There's been talk over the years about it being a bordello, a place where many unsavory characters and even mobsters would frequent to enjoy gambling, women and booze. I could not find anything in any archive to substantiate these claims, although it is a pretty exciting tale to tell. I think that it is safe to say that the Ryde Hotel did, at times, involve itself in "prohibited" acts according to the laws of the time, whether it be related to Prohibition or what not. Anything else is just pure speculation.

The hotel pride's itself as being the place many of Hollywoodland's elite would come for a weekend stay in the old days. Photos fill the walls with stars that are said to have stayed there.  In 1928, Herbert Hoover came to visit the Ryde Hotel and it is reported that at a political rally he held there, he announced his candidacy for President. During the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s newspaper archives note that it was a pleasant place for couples to celebrate their anniversary along the beautiful Delta.

During the 1960s and 1970s the crowd it attracted had changed and at one point had even changed it's name to the Grand Island Inn for awhile. The Ryde Hotel's website even states that at one point the hotel turned into a boarding house when the levee's were built.  The hotel has been bought and sold so many times over the years. During the 1970s, when the building that housed the 2nd Ryde Hotel was demolished, Dennis Leary (the owner of that property) allowed the Ryde Hotel access to pave a new driveway down the side of the hotel. Originally the Ryde's driveway was the one on the north side of the building, but after having issues with delivery trucks for so many years due to the fact it was so steep, Leary was nice enough to let them pave a second driveway on the southside of the hotel for easier access. Later, Mr. Leary sold the land on the south, to the hotel where they eventually used it for the parking lot they have today.  

Hotel California?
The Ryde Hotel's water tower.

I found some sites claiming adamantly that the Ryde Hotel was the "inspiration" for the Eagle's song "Hotel California". This is absolutely incorrect. First off, my step father was a huge Eagles fan, and that song was his favorite. I have heard every idea that has been thrown out there about possible meanings and inspirations for that song over the years, none of which ever mentioned the Ryde Hotel.

If any hotel would be mentioned for the inspiration for that song, it would be the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. The Eagle's themselves were quoted stating the song is about the "interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles", plus the Chateau Marmont was the "spot" for everyone in the entertainment world to party at, so that one makes more sense to me.

Secondly, over the years there's been so many ideas about the true meanings of the song, some people have gone so far as to state it was about a hotel in San Francisco that was purchased by Anton LaVey and turned into a Satanic church. Others have even tried to say the song is about the Camarillo State Mental Hospital, in Camarillo, CA. So for the theory that the Ryde Hotel was the inspiration for that classic song, it just doesn't add up. Sorry.

Deaths, Murders, Mystery

copyright: J'aime Rubio
In all the searching I have done on the original Ryde, the 2nd Ryde and the final Ryde Hotel that stands today, I haven't found any other deaths besides Alex Johnson's death in 1920. Not to say that no one else died there, maybe I just haven't found it yet. I read on a 'less than credible' website, that a local artist committed suicide there and that he haunts the place. I see no real proof of this, nor to I believe this. I did find that this artist sadly took his life in 2006, however there was no mention that he took his life at the Ryde Hotel.

The newspaper article that I read, stated that he had suffered from depression and mental illness and that he took his life at his home on Grand Island. Honestly, whether he killed himself there or not, I find it in poor taste and given the fact this tragedy was so recent, that for someone to be putting his death on a website to claim a place is haunted or not, is just plain wrong!

I write about historical facts and stories that took place a long time ago. I do this to pay tribute and honor those who can no longer speak for themselves, therefore I will not go any further into this man's life or death, nor will I even mention his name out of respect for him and also to his family. Again, I could find NO EVIDENCE that he took his life at the Ryde Hotel so other websites should NOT be posting this information if they do not have the facts.

In Conclusion

In the time I have spent looking into the vast history of the Hotel Ryde and the community of Ryde itself, I have become even more fascinated with this beautiful piece of heaven. I always enjoyed taking drives out here on weekends and just enjoying the peace and serenity that this little Delta town has to offer, but now even more so it holds a special place in my heart now, and forever.

I am glad to have been able to research and document this history that had been forgotten for so long. It makes me happy that others out there who really want to know the real history of this place can now know what I know. If you are ever in the area of the California Delta, (just about 30 miles northwest of Stockton or 30 miles southwest of Sacramento), I suggest you take a little drive down to Walnut Grove and visit Ryde. It's worth the trip!!

(Copyright 2013- J'aime Rubio, Dreaming Casually Publications)

Sausalito News (January 10, 1920)
Sacramento Bee (January 13, 1920)
Lodi Sentinel (November 13, 1923)
Interview with Dennis Leary
Ryde Hotel Website ( 
Free Lance Star 8/5/1977
Sacramento River Delta Historical Society- periodicals
various websites, census records, archives and newspaper clippings

Photo Sources:
All photos of the Ryde Hotel are copyright protected and property of J'aime Rubio
photo of Lon Chaney, Jr. from public domain
Prohibition photo public domain

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Hidden History of the Hotel Ryde- Walnut Grove, CA (Part 1)

Ryde, CA (Walnut Grove Area)
A while back, someone very special took me to a quaint little Delta town known as Ryde.  In fact, it was one of our first "dates" you could say. I had never been on the windy roads of the Delta, so I didn't know what to expect, although I was more than pleasantly surprised. While driving along the levee roads, you can literally watch the river flow by. It doesn't take much imagination to think of how it must have been to be there in Ryde's heyday when Sternwheel steamers and paddle boats traveled up and down that Delta and all the people who passed through.

When we arrived, my certain "someone" pulled the car down a steep driveway next to an old 1920's styled hotel, named the Hotel Ryde. As a gentleman does, he went around to the passenger side and opened the door for me, leading me to the back of the vehicle. He had then pulled out an old crank record player as well as a very old 78 rpm vinyl record and played it for me. Then, like all romantic movies play out, he asked me to dance with him. No one was around, it was nearly sunset, and the wind was blowing quite fierce, but it didn't was the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for me. So, like the true romantic that I am, I engulfed myself in the moment and danced!

After we were done, he took me for a walk around the property, telling me what he knew of the history there. In fact, at one time he and some of his friends wanted to purchase the hotel themselves. The history within the walls and the very community of Ryde itself had me chomping at the bit to investigate. What secrets lie there? What history could be told that had been long forgotten? And who did I need to speak to, to reveal that history? So many questions, and not a lot of people around to ask.

Soon after, I contacted the Ryde Hotel and the California Delta Chamber & Visitors Bureau to see if I could find out more about it's history. I reached at dead end with the Ryde Hotel at first. After contacting the hotel itself, the manager told me that he didn't know any more of the history prior to 1927. Thankfully, I did get one lead through Bill Wells at the California Delta Chamber & Visitors Bureau because he pointed me in the right direction, Giusti's!

You see, from what Bill Wells told me, Giusti's is a restaurant in Walnut Grove that has been around for generations. Not only that, but he told me that he thought the cash register at the bar was actually one of the original registers from the first Hotel Ryde. That was because the owner's grandfather was the one who started the first Hotel Ryde in the late 1800s.  This was the lead I was looking for!

I continued researching in the old microfilmed archives, I checked old newspapers and periodicals and hit a gold mine of historic information. With all that I discovered, plus after finally contacting Mark Morais (owner of Giusti's), who so very kindly pointed me to lifetime local resident Dennis Leary, I was well on my way to getting a clearer picture of just what this hotel and the town itself was like, long ago.

Thanks to the wonderful conversation I had with Mr. Leary, I received a first hand account from someone who lived there. Along with the information I dug up in old newspaper archives, I was able to put the pieces together to give you this in depth history of Ryde, and the Hotel Ryde. Enjoy!

The History Of  Founder Of  Ryde

Many say the reason for the name Ryde was given because the founder of the town was born in the town of Ryde, Isle of Wight in England. This is incorrect. In fact, the man who bought the land that Ryde was built on was born in Monticello, Kentucky and his name was General Thomas Williams. The name Ryde was later chosen by William Kesner and General Thomas Williams, for what reasons, I guess is left for speculation. Perhaps relatives in Williams' genealogy had come from that region of England long ago? Or perhaps William Kesner's family had originated there. Kesner was the one who took the land and made it into a town, thus he is Ryde's true founder. Although I couldn't find any definite evidence that says why he chose the name, for now we can only speculate.

According to the Daily Alta California (3/2/1886) it speaks of Thomas Hansford Williams death from heart disease and disorders of the stomach and liver. It also goes on to summarize his accomplishments. He was born May 18, 1828 and died February 28, 1886. He was a native of Wayne County, Kentucky. He was also the son of Kentucky Congressman, Hon. Sherrod Williams.  Williams came to California in 1850 and settled in El Dorado County, where he became a successful lawyer. By 1851, he was elected as the El Dorado County District Attorney. By 1857, he became the State Attorney General, where he was again re-elected in 1859. Once his term expired he moved to Sacramento, where he continued to practice law until moving up to Virginia City around 1863.

While in Virginia City, he and his business partner David Bixler opened the firm Williams & Bixler. One of their many clients, including many of the Silver Barons of the Comstock fortunes, owned the mining claim named "Central Number Two". Later it was organized into the Consolidated Virginia and California Mining Companies. Upon failing to pay their attorney's fees, the firm had no choice but to sue the company for what they did have, property. Although Williams thought that since the company couldn't pay their bills, obviously the claim was worthless, it in fact was not. They were sitting on a very profitable claim which they sold to George T. Marye & Son for the sum of  $3,000,000.00 (three million dollars).

Original Hotel Ryde c/o Giusti's
By 1877, Williams and Bixler acquired 17,000 acres of the Delta region. Later in 1891, Williams' son sold 40 acres where the community of Ryde sits, to William Kesner, the man who founded Ryde. According to Dennis Leary, he stated that another man by the name of Cardoza had land adjacent to the Kesner properties and that the land the original Ryde Hotel was built on belonged to Cardoza, although the building itself was built by the Giusti family.

The Original Hotel Ryde

In 1886, the Giusti brothers (Egisto, Morro, Paolo and Pietro) immigrated from Lucca, Italy to the Walnut Grove area of the Delta, and built the very first Hotel Ryde. The Giusti family owned and operated the hotel and saloon for many years successfully, until the day of November 6, 1911. That was the day that the entire town of Ryde burned to the ground, leaving little to nothing left.

The San Francisco Call (November 8, 1911) noted:

Almost  Every Building Goes Before Flames, With Loss of $100,000

- Almost every building in town was destroyed by a fire which started here last night, causing loss of nearly $100,000. The fire started in the kitchen of the Ryde hotel, burned down the hotel and spread to an adjoining stable. The store of S.E. Brown and Fred Weber's saloon, the $50,000 pumping plant of reclamation district No. 3 and two wharves owned by W.A. Kesner were destroyed. The fire burned out because there was nothing left for it to feed on."

Sadly, the Hotel Ryde, along with all the other businesses and homes were burned to the ground. Thankfully, everyone was able to rebuild. Instead of staying in the same spot, the Giusti's decided to move to their current spot on the other side of the river in Walnut Grove. At the time they built it, it was originally called the Miller's Ferry Saloon. There was also a general store and a toll station for the ferry that was run by the family as well. After all these years, the Giusti family has run a very successful family owned and operated business along one of the most beautiful places in the Delta that still remains today.

So in 1911, with the town of Ryde burned to the ground, and all the residents struggling to build back their livelihood, what was to be the future of the Hotel Ryde?

In the next article I will go more in depth to uncover some unknown facts and history about the rebuilding of the Hotel Ryde and a few mysteries as well.


(Copyright 2013- J'aime Rubio/Dreaming Casually Publications)

Thank you Dennis Leary, Mark Morais (Giusti's), Bill Kesner, & Bill Wells for all your help!

Photo Sources:
Photo of Original Hotel Ryde, property of Mark Morais (Giusti's)
Photo of Delta-Walnut Grove, property of J'aime Rubio

San Francisco Call 11/8/1911
Daily California Alta 3/2/1886
Free Lance Star 8/5/1977
Overland Monthly (1918)
Sacramento River Delta Historical Society- periodicals
Interview with Dennis Leary
Various Census Records, Archives, etc.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review: A Look at "Folsom's 93"

Folsom's 93
This past Summer, I was fortunate to pre-order my copy of a highly anticipated book. Written by the talented and very tenacious writer, April Moore and published by Craven Street Books, "Folsom's 93" takes a look at the 93 men who were executed at the old Folsom Prison between 1895-1937.

The whole story behind April's decision to write the book, is just as intriguing as the book itself. Apparently, April's great-great aunt Betty had information and photographs of these "condemned" men from Folsom that had been acquired by her late husband. Growing up, April had seen the photos when visiting and became fascinated with them. Years later, after coming across the very same photos again, she was inspired to write about their stories for the rest of the world.

This book tells the back story to each and every inmate that was executed at the old Folsom Prison with great detail. Within this 'page-turner' there are some tales of men who seem to have been possibly framed, while other stories depict mad characters committing  some of the most atrocious acts.  The wide range of the demented go from men who found pleasure killing for fun, men who lost their tempers in a fit of rage, revenge killing, even a few sociopaths as well as everything else in between.

Inmate, Willard C. Shannon
One of the many men convicted for murder and sent to the gallows was Willard C. Shannon, whom I have even researched and wrote about before on my blog. In fact, April Moore was kind enough to allow me to use one of her photographs from her collection for my article "Murder at the Defender Mine" as well.  In April's book, "Folsom's 93", she goes into great detail describing Shannon's shenanigans and crimes that led him to the noose in 1928.

There are so many great stories of so many disturbed men, it would be impossible to write about each one, let alone name my favorite story of the 93 tales. When I first received my copy, honestly I couldn't put the book down. I had to force myself to stop half-way through the book and take a rest. I ended up finishing the book the very next day, it was that good! April has a way of telling the stories of these men, so that the readers themselves can instantly be transported back in time, as a "fly on the wall" imagining in detail just what sort of things took place.

All I can tell you is to order your copy of this book today. See for yourself the impeccable and thorough job that was done by writer April Moore to give us such a fine historical true crime book, that I enjoyed immensely.

Get Your Copy of "Folsom's 93" Today!

(Copyright 2013 J'aime Rubio- Dreaming Casually Publications)

Photo Sources:
Photo of " Folsom's 93" (book cover), property of Craven Street Books.
Photo of Willard Shannon, property of  April Moore.