June 6, 1856: The death sentence of convicted murderer James Freeland was fulfilled on the plaza when he was hung directly in front of the American Hotel, an execution witnessed by some 3,000 people. His body was left hanging for almost a half hour before it was taken down. (From “Images of America—Auburn” by Arthur Sommers.)
January 8, 1858: “January ball at American Hotel. The Auburn Cotillion Ban was out in full force and gave much satisfaction to the dancers by the superiority and appropriateness of their music.” (PH)
October 15, 1859: In another blaze that swept through Lower Town, the American Hotel suffered $5,000 in damages. It was repaired and reopened in 1860.
Throughout the last half of the 19th century: The American Hotel was a social center for a fledgling community on the edge of civilization that enjoyed rapid growth early due first to the discovery of gold and then the construction of the transcontinental railroad. These two events drew thousands of people to the region, but then expansion slowed dramatically. In those boom years and beyond, what is now Old Town was a raucous place, home to both gambling dens and “sporting clubs.” Brewery Lane was the town’s red light district, and stories abound of opium dens below buildings and in the ravine. Most of the “history” is oral with little actual documentation of events except for newspaper reports. No doubt, though, for a time, Auburn was a hot spot in the West.
October 14, 1882: “The American Hotel was sold by Mr. F. Guobayto to Mr. J.R. Wills and Frank Tull, both old residents of Auburn. Mr. Guobayto had owned the American Hotel for about a year and had renovated it from top to bottom.” (PH)
May 4, 1895: “George West of Westville has bought American Hotel—will take over about May 15—ran hospitable hotel.” (PH)
1896: This is the year purported to be the founding of the Yue family’s business in the American Block Building, ultimately called the Shanghai Restaurant & Bar. The business—locally acknowledged as California’s oldest restaurant and liquor license operating continuously in the same location—may have been created in that year, but based on public records and a short family history left by Annie Yue, daughter of Shanghai founder Charlie Yue, it likely was in a nearby structure, not in the American Block building. Here’s why:
• In her family history, Annie Yue said that her parents were married in 1903, and noted: “After their marriage, mother and father settled in Auburn, where father and some partners operated a Chinese supply store and food outlet. Later, he became a partner in the legendary Shanghai Restaurant & Bar.” (Emphasis added. Note: This quote was published in Auburn, A Century of Memories).
• Two photos from the turn of the century In Auburn Images published in 2004 by the Placer County Historical Society (pages 11 and 25), indicate the building was occupied by others.
• In 1899 the American Hotel was owned by George West.
• In 1905, after the American Hotel burns for a third time, the shell was purchased by Mr. F.S. Roumage and Mr. L.L. Chamberlain. In 1906 Placer Hardware occupied the building; there is no specific public record of when the Shanghai opened in the American Block.