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The Western Hotel's Backyard: Then and Now

As many long-time residents know, the Western Hotel/Museum has undergone many changes throughout the years. The Hotel was built in 1888, and was known by many names including the Antelope Valley Hotel, the Gillwyn Hotel, and Hotel Western before its best-known and current name was adopted circa 1895.

As the oldest surviving building in Lancaster's historic downtown area, the Western Hotel is undoubtedly associated with the early settlement and development of the community which is an important event in local and regional history. Furthermore, the Hotel is the only Victorian-era and Victorian-style buildings extant in the city and therefore represents a distinctive example of the style, type, and period in the community.

Around the early 1900s, the Hotel was one of the few buildings located along an empty Tenth Street (now present-day Lancaster Boulevard). Behind the hotel, were old stables which were looked after by "Old Jeff." Old Jeff was an employee of the hotel, in charge of the horses and buckboards (four-wheeled open wagons). Old Jeff was also responsible for hauling passengers and luggage to and from the Western Hotel and the train depot for 50 cents to $2.00. If you were a guest staying at the Hotel during this time, you were provided a washbasin and chamber pot within your room, however, bathroom facilities were a separate shower building and outhouse also located within the back of the building.

Judy Garland (born Frances Ethel Gumm) attended a few years at the original Lancaster Grammar School located across the street from the Hotel and lived with her family along Cedar Avenue. While playing with a friend after school, Garland ran barefoot across a slab of wet cement leaving behind a permanent imprint of her small foot. Recently, the slab was removed from the backyard for documentation and preservation; in the future, a casted mold will be placed in the footprint’s original location.

Between 1908 and 1915 the Hotel acted as the headquarters for the aqueduct, electrical, gas, petroleum, and paving crews. The aqueduct, stretching from the Owens Valley into the Antelope Valley, helped the town recover from a decade-long drought, and in order to accommodate the numerous workers, a “tent city” was erected just west of the hotel. During this time, Myrtie and her staff housed and fed as many as 250 to 300 men per day; in a newspaper article that dates back to 1955, Myrtie herself states that she had to, “rise two to three times a night to change linen in the tents and also two sleeping rooms in the water tower.” Below, photos can be seen of the backyard with the “tent cities” established – in one of the photos, proprietors of the hotel can be seen with Myrtie Webber (second from left) and George Webber leaning against a tree.

Today, the Western Hotel’s backyard is yet again undergoing some changes. As previously mentioned, some artifacts were removed for preservation purposes; these include Garland’s footprint along with a few Native American mortars. The courtyard which inhabits the gazebo is currently being renovated, and plants native to the region are being added. Upon the completion of these projects, this area will not only be a nice place to relax after touring the museum but will also be available as a rental space through the Lancaster Museum of Art and History (MOAH) for those that want to host outdoor events.

Stay tuned for updates on the project’s progress and completion dates, along with any potential information on the Western Hotel Museum’s reopening!

Photos courtesy of MOAH’s Permanent Collection.


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