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Old Town’s Not The Same

That’s the name of a song which reminds me of Ukiah. I needed to visit an appliance store on the north end of town. When we finished leaving a cooler for repair and turned south, I immediately knew we were in trouble. I forgot that the town’s fathers were tearing down State Street. No sooner did we get to the first stop light, the traffic slowed to a stall of about around 10 inches per-minute. 

But on the bright side, since I was the passenger, I was able to look at the Ukiah I had forgotten about, since I graduated from Ukiah High School 65 years ago. What caught my eye was the Palace Hotel, with all of its history, elegance, and glamor. My grandmother spent the last years of her long life living on the third floor in an apartment on the north-east corner.

I remember the Palace as a young kid of 6 or 7. I was allowed to walk around town by myself visiting all three of the 5 and 10 cent stores. At a specific time, I would meet my mother at the Palace, who had been shopping for our weekly groceries. If I had been good all week, she would give me 10 cents to buy something with. 

The Palace was owned and run by F. Walter Sandlin, known as Mr. Ukiah. If anything was going to happen in Ukiah, Walter was involved. By the way “F” stood for Francis, a name he never used. His avocation was that daily he would purchase 6 or 7 birthday cards. I was one of the lucky people on his birthday card list. Every year for at least 40 years I received a birthday card from Walter Sandlin with just a short-personalized note in his handwriting. Somewhere along my 50th birthday, I received a card with a personal note saying, “Happy Birthday and many more.” This was Walter’s way of saying this was the last card. And indeed, it was; he died soon after. My next birthday when I did not get a card from him, I really knew he was gone. Walter still lives in my mind. A bridge is named after him on Highway 101 at the Mendocino-Sonoma County line. What a tribute to a great Ukiahian. Think of him when you travel south.

The Palace, among other things, had a large lobby, stuffed chairs, and an elevator (probably the only one in town) at that time. As a kid you would feel safe in the lobby. The counter was always staffed. Walter was always somewhere around. You could go down the hall to the west and use the men’s restroom. It was the first men’s room I ever saw that required you to pay to use the stalls. The urinals were free but lord, if you needed to do number two, you needed a nickel.

Hotels then always had a restaurant and bar. In the 40s drinks were still 50¢ in the Black Bart Bar. You could get a meal special for 85¢ in the Palace Café. In the 50s a nice large meeting room was built. It was THE place to have your business meeting. The bar was moved around so the large meeting room could be built. 

I remember in 1954 a group of Sophomore school girls organized an invitation only night dance at the Palace Hotel. By chance, I and my current squeeze were invited. I was a senior and my squeeze was a junior. At that time, I had never heard of the word cotillion. Ukiah was a wee bit too small for a full-fledged social event, but the girls in the class of 1956 were well educated about growing up in high society. The invitation list was kind of like a Who’s Who at that time in high school. We had had our proms and school dances in the high school, with teachers as chaperones making sure we didn’t dance too close or try to cop a feel. 

This dance at the Palace was completely different. The door was bodyguarded by a guy named Mr. Big Shot, with a clipboard. He had a clipboard so you knew he was important. Your name had to be on his clipboard list. He questioned me at length as to how I got invited. Mr. Big Shot, later in life, was one of the most disappointing schoolmates I ever knew. He spent his life selling toilet paper. I remember in gym class someone lit the waste paper can on fire and I went to bat for Mr. Big Shot, telling Mr. Tully, our PE Teacher, it was not him. It wasn’t until many years later that he finally owned up to setting the waste paper can on fire. That’s probably why he was doomed to selling toilet paper for the rest of his life. Every time I do number two, I think of him.

Beside the bar and café, the Palace had a dress shop run by Suzie Cox, Kings Office Supply Store, Berman’s Men’s shop, Ukiah Travel Agency run by Walter’s son, Palace Barber Shop run by a Mr.Sandkulla, and a beauty shop run by Mr. Tully’s beautiful wife Del.

My heart breaks when I look at the Palace Hotel and how it looks today. Then I think about all of the possibilities that the building and property could have become. In my lifetime travels I have eaten, drank, and slept in hotels of the same vintage as the Palace. No one in Ukiah has stepped forward to resurrect the Palace. Come south to see the old Thatcher hotel we have in Hopland and how it has been remodeled (for the umpteenth time). 

In Ukiah, the town fathers are spending gazillions on State Street. Next time I am in Ukiah I will remember to turn left when I visit my appliance store. And remember the yellow painted steel posts, and not back into them. Mark would not be happy.

And the appliance was working, no charge. I guess that is what friends are for. 

7 Comments

  1. Lazarus August 7, 2021

    I used to hang out at the Palace Hotel. There was a nightclub around the back. I think they called it The Back Door.
    I saw Charlie Musselwhite, The Ford Brothers, and Marc Hansen, and David Raitt. Rip Marc, and Bonnie’s brother David, and many others…Good times.
    Be Well,
    Laz

  2. izzy August 7, 2021

    What the heck, I’ll jump in.
    Did the logo for Pardini Appliance back in the late ‘70s, right around the time the Palace was undergoing its last renovation. They’re still using it.
    “The old home town don’t look the same, etc…”

  3. Marmon August 7, 2021

    Ukiah Way Back When… Facebook page

    Was there a bar behind the Palace Hotel called the Back Door?

    Diane Walls

    The Palace had two bars
    The backdoor had entertainment. The best music Ukiah ever had at that time, Hanson and Raitt, Tommy Tutone, Charlie Musselwhite to name a few

    Sharon Kiichli

    Diane Walls Three bars. The Black Bart room was there for years before Kuletto bought it (near the School Street entrance.) . Then they added The Back Door for music, dancing and theater and the big bar in front, and a new restaurant in the middle. The place was jumping for several years!!

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/6027600078/permalink/10157634747975079/

    Marmon

  4. George Dorner August 8, 2021

    And it’s still a great location for Mendo’s new courthouse, right next to the old one.

    • Lazarus August 8, 2021

      Why not a PHF, what could possibly go wrong?
      As always,
      Laz

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