Boomtowns in the West possessed the need for entertainment and, with that in mind, Selma began its rich history of attracting performing arts facilities.
Selma had two institutions that started up that insured that the “finer things in life” were available. Those two places, the Unger Opera House and the Whitson Hotel, were located diagonally opposite of each other at Second Street and Whitson Street.
Of the two, the opera house came first and lasted the longest, but for a few years the two were in concert. Between them, an eager thirst for the nation’s finest drama and actors and an appreciation for excellence in hotel accommodations awakened in Selma.
The Whitson Hotel was among the West Coast’s finest hotels. The hotel was conceived in the summer of 1887, when Selma’s population boom was at its peak. In September, J. E. Whitson bought out partners and commissioned the building of the hotel. At a cost of $52,000. All 100 rooms in its three story were finished with redwood and hardwood floors. All of the rooms had electric call bells, and water piped to all three floors. The register at the front desk contained the signatures of those who stayed there, as well as those who dinned, at the hotel. The first entry was the proprietor Jacob Emory Whitson on Jan. 25, 1889. For the next four years it was well patronized, a favorite of Former Governor Leland Stanford as well as a favorite of many others.
There were grand nights in the beautiful ballroom, with register telling of dinners and dances large and small. The Christmas season of 1889 was a particularly busy one with holiday social dances and a masquerade ball held at the Unger Opera House on Christmas Eve, with dinner, at the stroke of midnight at Whitson Hotel.
In the early 1890s troubled times fell upon the Whitson Hotel and Whitson sold the Hotel in February 1891. The Whitson finally closed in 1894 and became a financial disaster for J. E. Whitson. A major fire destroyed the building in the early morning of Jan. 12, 1919.
Next week I will share the story of the Unger Opera House and its impact to Selma.
Thanks to Randall McFarland for providing this part of Selma History in his book, "Centennial Selma: Biography of a California Community’s First 100 Years."