Monday, November 23, 2009

Benicia is a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area of about 30,000, but owns a large and impressive history. Its biggest claim to fame is its status as California's third capital city (preceded by San Jose and Vallejo and followed, of course, by Sacramento). On a beautiful, blustery November day we decided to take a stroll down Benicia's First Street for a tour of some local history.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, est. 1855

The gazebo at the City Park, right on First St.

A beautifully restored 1897 building houses The Camellia Tea Room. Interesting tidbit: The Tea Room's wallpaper was done by the famous art wallpaper company, Bradbury and Bradbury (also a Benicia business!), who decorated the walls of the movie "Hook"! Check out their blog, Bradbury & Bradbury.

The old Majestic Theater, now used mostly for comedy shows. According to the Benicia Historical Society, the first talking picture came to the theater in 1930. The picture was called "The Girl Said No!", and a Mickey Mouse cartoon also played-- with the cost of admission at 30 cents.

The famous Benicia Capitol building, which sits midway down First St and was built in 1852. We popped inside for a tour, which will be covered in a subsequent post.

In the meantime, we will continue our stroll down First...

The great shop Blue Goose Antiques. Did we mention Benicia is known for its numerous antique shops...

Left: First St. Cafe, built in the 1880s. The building has been used over the years as a bar, rooming house, and artist studio.

Today, the cafe hosts plenty of live music nights and is a popular eatery.

The old Union Hotel, also built in the 1880s, is a hotel and restaurant famous for a ghost or two. "Disappointed Mary" is said to roam the halls at night, the sad spirit of a woman who hanged herself in the hotel back in the 19th century. It is also said that Ulysses S. Grant and Tecumseh Sherman are included in the hotel's remarkable guest list.

Captain Blyther's Restaurant sits at the end of First St., right on the beautiful waterfront. The building was constructed c. 1870, and is another spot of reported hauntings. Though the restaurant is newer (and, at the time of this post, recently reported to be closing), the name of the establishment dates back to its original owner, Captain Blyther himself. Blyther lived with his family on the property and conducted a small freighting business, transporting goods around the Bay Area. The building is also said to be one of Benicia's old houses of "ill-repute."

Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, c. 1900. The old center of Benicia's industrial and commercial activity. Railroad passengers could once board the ferry from here to Port Costa, just across the water.

Some scenes from the Benicia waterfront...

And some neat Benicia homes...
Well, so much history, so little time. We've only scratched the surface here, so expect more coming on this quaint little town!

Black & white photo courtesy Benicia Historical Museum.


Anonymous said...

I've been waiting for a Benicia post! I miss my little town. Well done!

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful peek inside some of the best parts of Benicia. Well done!