February 27, 2008 > History: Hayward, the lovely resort town
History: Hayward, the lovely resort town
By Marcess Owings, Hayward Area Historical Society and Museums
Admit it - traveling is one of those things that we all wish we could do more of. It is on people's minds all the time, how to spend our sacred two weeks vacation. The Hayward that we know today has nearly every modern convenience of travel with several freeways and bridges, BART, and at least three major airports close by. But imagine a time when travel was more of a luxury and then think of Hayward. It is nearly impossible to imagine now, but Hayward was once a very popular resort town. Families and tourists once flocked here, seeking refuge from the crowded and noisy cities of San Francisco and Oakland.
Starting in the late 1870s, Hayward was a local destination synonymous with "resort." People passing through or those escaping normal life would stay in Hayward for entertainment, relaxation, and hospitality. Hayward was the rural countryside that provided an opportunity to commune with nature. Anyone could forget the hustle and bustle of the crowded city streets and appreciate the slower life here and the mild Mediterranean climate was perfect for health. As the cities grew, so did travel through Hayward, especially as railroads joined it with Oakland. Accommodations and hospitality is where Hayward's beginning is rooted.
The first hotel was built in 1852 by William Hayward, a New Englander who came West during the Gold Rush. Lacking luck in mining gold, William settled in the Bay Area where he squatted on Don Guillermo Castro's land. William set up a small store to serve other miners passing through the area and he saved up enough money to buy a parcel of land on the corner of Main and A streets, upon which he built his famous Haywards Hotel. Originally a modest 840 square feet, it was a place for travelers to rest for a night before continuing on their way.
Business grew and so did the hotel, growing to 72 rooms and finally 100 rooms. The impressive three-story structure became the landmark of the Hayward area with tourists from all over the area coming to stay. In the summer months, cottages were installed in Memorial Park to allow vacationers to temporarily live in the woods and commune with nature. The hotel was wildly famous for its food and hospitality, thanks to William's wife Rachel.
In addition to serving visitors and guests, the hotel was a community hot spot for local residents. Haywards Hotel was the first post office after William was appointed postmaster in 1856. In 1878, the Haywards Hotel grew to include an annex located across the street. It provided an additional 20 rooms and housed a billiards hall and bowling alley on the first floor. For over 70 years, the Haywards Hotel stood to welcome guests. Unfortunately, the main building of the hotel fell victim to a fire in 1923. The annex building was demolished in 1952 to make way for the widening of A Street.
Of course, the Haywards Hotel was not the only choice for accommodations in the fair resort town. A competitor, the Oakes Hotel, was built in 1863. Located at A Street and Mission Boulevard, it was originally known as the Lee and Ryland Hotel, but when Anthony "Tony" Oakes took over following the 1868 earthquake, it was renamed. Another unlucky forty-niner, Oakes got his start by entertaining people with his silvery tenor voice and Mexican guitar at a Sonoma hotel-saloon. He eventually moved to San Francisco and around the Peninsula before settling in Hayward, learning the hotel service trade along the way. The Oakes Hotel had 20 rooms and one suite. It also featured private dining rooms with chicken and game dinners being a house specialty. The Western Union Telegraph Company also had an office in the hotel to serve guests. The Oakes Hotel was known throughout Northern California for its food, liquor, and entertainment.
However, perhaps the biggest draw for guest and local alike was the adjoining Oakes Hall. Oakes himself wrote about the hall, stating "this hall was erected by the proprietor for the use of parties, balls, and theatrical performances, with stage and scenery attached." Because of Oakes' previous acquaintance with San Francisco actors, opera stars, and circus performers, the Oakes Hotel became Hayward's center of culture. Oakes himself entertained his guests in the tavern and dining room. Starting in 1870, the Oakes Hotel also became a winter home to various traveling circuses, including Montgomery Queen's Circus and Menagerie. Pens and sawdust rings were built out back to house the animals, and tourists might encounter any number of acrobats, side show freaks, and fire-eaters.
By 1878, the hotel was so popular that Oakes published the Tony Oakes Songster, a song book containing popular music distributed in the dining room after dinner. After participating in a group sing-a-long, the room grew lively with dance. Oakes also encouraged his circus guests to perform. After a 30-year run, Oakes retired from the hotel business around 1890. The Oakes Hotel soon became the Villa Hotel and continued on as a Hayward treasure for another 60 years before demolition in 1952.
Looking at Hayward now, it is amazing that our busy city at the heart of the bay used to be a rural travel destination known for restorative qualities and cultural happenings. From tourists and circus animals in a resort town to a suburban commuter city, Hayward has grown tremendously to encompass other aspects of life. It might be something to consider the next time you head out of town to a modern travel hot-spot-how being a tourist destination might have an effect on their development.
Marcess Owings is a curatorial assistant at the Hayward Area Historical Society and Museums (HAHS). To learn more about Hayward's diverse history, visit the downtown museum at 22701 Main St. in Hayward. For more information on current exhibits and programs, visit www.haywardareahistory.org.