STOCKTON (CBS13) — A fire that ripped through a historic hotel will be the final nail in the coffin for the building, as building inspectors have decided to tear it down.

The building had been vacant since 2001, and is one of several city-owned hotels that have sat vacant for years in Stockton.

The hotels are all within a few blocks of each other and have posed a real problem for the city trying to keep the homeless from breaking into them.

As the economy begins to turn around, there is new hope that something will be done with all of the abandoned hotels.

There was a time when the hotels couldn’t be built fast enough back when Stockton was a thriving Gold Rush town.

“My family’s been here since 1880, and so some of these buildings have come up and gone down within that time,” said Christina Fugazi with the Stockton Planning Commission.

But now they are blighted buildings in a struggling downtown. The city says homeless people living inside the hotel may have started Wednesday’s fire at the Earle Hotel. A picture taken inside the hotel a month ago shows a room littered with debris.

At the turn of this century, Stockton shut down and took over eight hotels in a code-enforcement sweep. Preservationists sued to prevent tearing down the buildings the city couldn’t afford to renovate.

“There are those that say, ‘No, no, no, don’t tear it down, we can’t tear it down,’” said Fugazi, :but where’s the money gonna come from to keep it standing?”

That question paralyzed progress for more than a decade. A settlement would be reached to bulldoze several hotels, including the Earle, but Stockton’s cash crisis and eventual bankruptcy would halt that project as well.

“The city’s kind of in this hard place right now,” she said.

At one time there were eight hotels. The Land Hotel was torn down, and the La Verta was sold, and the Terry was sold and is being redeveloped.

The city is soliciting bids for three of the five remaining hotels. That just leaves the El Tecolote which is up for sale, and the Earle, which is about to become an empty lot.

Local historian Matthew Craig says his company is interested in renovating The Main—one of the three hotels for which the city is soliciting bids.

“I’ve always admired these old hotels,” he said.

It’s a past he says is worth preserving. He doesn’t want to lose it to a bulldozer or another fire.

“We can’t let these buildings stay abandoned forever,” he said.


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