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Hotel Robinson (1897-1921)

Hotel Robinson, ca. 1900
Image Ownership: Public domain

The Hotel Robinson, built in 1897, was one of the first businesses in San Diego County, California to be owned and operated by an African American, and the oldest continuously operated hotel in Southern California. The hotel is now a part of the National Register of Historic Places and is a Point of Historic Interest for the state of California, thanks to the present owners’ efforts.

Albert Robinson and his wife, Margaret Tull Robinson, originally ran the hotel. Margaret Tull’s father was the first African American man to be a juror in San Diego County. Her mother, Susan Tull, owned property and was possibly the financial backer of the building of the hotel.

Albert Robinson was born a slave in 1845 in Missouri, but the exact location is not known. During the Civil War, he befriended a military officer and came to San Diego with the officer after the war. The officer may have been Major Levi Chase, who came to San Diego in 1868, but this cannot be confirmed. In 1886 Robinson was living in Julian and was a cook for a ranch. He met Margaret Tull, a San Diego native, and married her that year. As a wedding gift from Margaret’s parents, the couple received a piece of land in Julian, which would become the site of the hotel.

Soon after their marriage, the Robinsons opened a restaurant and bakery, named the Robinson Restaurant and Bakery. Margaret served a Sunday night chicken dinner every night that quickly made their restaurant popular within the community. For almost a decade, the restaurant enjoyed success.

In 1897 the Robinson Restaurant and Bakery was demolished to begin construction on the Hotel Robinson. Margaret’s mother, Susan, was most likely involved in financing the construction. Local community members, C. R. Wellington and F.L. Blanc, oversaw the construction. It was completed and opened in the same year. The hotel was built with fourteen guest rooms, a full kitchen, dining room, and a parlor room.

The hotel became a social center of the community, famous for its hospitality and cooking. Many settlers would eat most of their meals at the hotel and visit daily. Some of the wealthiest and most influential families in San Diego at the time, such as the Scripps and the Whitneys, were also frequent guests, as well as visiting senators and congressman. A monthly dance for all community residents was held at the Julian town hall, right across the street from the hotel. After each dance, Margaret would prepare a midnight feast at the hotel for all the participants.

On June 10, 1915, Albert died to an unknown illness. Margaret continued to operate the hotel and restaurant until 1921. She sold the hotel to the Martin Jacobs for $1500. The Jacobs family continued to own the hotel for forty-seven years. During this period, the hotel was renamed to the Julian Hotel, in honor of the previous Julian Hotel, built in 1872 and burned in 1900. Today, the Julian Hotel is the only hotel in the town and is furnished in an early twentieth century style in keeping with the original vision that the Robinsons had. Thanks to present-day owners, Steve and Gig Ballinger, the hotel is a part of the National Register of Historic Places and a California Point of Historical Interest.

Sources:
Kathryn A. Jordan, “Life Beyond Gold: A New Look at the History of Julian, California,” The Journal of San Diego History, Spring 2008; “A Julian California Historical Hotel”, http://www.julianhotel.com/, July 27, 2015; Ruth Lepper, “Tribute to Julian’s Black Pioneers Ends With Successful Celebration,” Ramona Home Journal, March 1, 2006.

Contributor:

University of Washington, Seattle

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