The Basque Librarian recently shared an article with me about a unique hotel in Ogden (Utah), “Royal Hotel Served Basques and African Americans,” by Miriam B. Murphy. Published in the History Blazer in October 1996, it sheds light on the Basque community in Ogden and compelled me to look into it. I was surprised to find that the Royal Hotel is not mentioned in William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao’s Amerikanuak, Jeronima Echeverria’s Home Away from Home, or even Nancy Zubiri’s A Travel Guide to Basque America! However, all three books do mention the particular situation of Ogden in the Basque experience of the American West.
Douglass and Bilbao do refer to two hotels in the town, one French-Basque and the other Vizcayan. Ogden stands out as a site of transit for many Basques traveling West. It was there that “many Vizcayans changed to the spur line that curved northward into southern Idaho. Others continued on to northern and western Nevada and San Francisco” (373). The two hotels served these Basque migrants on their journeys and were centers of Basque community. According to Echeverria, “These Ogden ostatuak also became popular stopover spots for vacationing Great Basin Basques, places for local and regional Basque ranchers and sheepmen to conduct business, and the scene where young couples gathered with their families to conduct marriage ceremonies and the festivities afterward, as well as spend their honeymoon” (162). However, besides these remarks, Echeverria concludes that “No further information could be gleaned on these establishments” (162). It’s a good thing Murphy brought the Royal Hotel’s story to light!
Lastly, Zubiri mentions an amusing anecdote about the Basque community in Utah
…isolated within the vast Mormon population, the pockets of Basques in Ogden, in southeast Utah, and later in the Salt Lake City area developed almost unbeknownst to one another. When the current Basque club, based in Salt Lake City, filed its application with the state for incorporation in 1973, the group was surprised to learn that a Utah Basque club had previously existed in Ogden. “Nobody alive knew anything about it,” said Mary Gaztambide–not even the oldest Basques in the community. Her husband Jean kept a copy of the incorporation application of the earlier group, which had been filed in 1914! (465)
So without further ado, here’s the article from the Utah Division of State History’s website:
ROYAL HOTEL SERVED BASQUES AND AFRICAN AMERICANS
Miriam B. Murphy
History Blazer, October 1996
Built in 1914 at 2522 Wall Avenue, Ogden, the Royal Hotel has filled a unique role in the city’s history. A modest three-story masonry building, the hotel originally provided housing for blue collar railroad workers and travelers. Shops, cafes, and offices filled the front spaces of the street floor, and modestly priced hotel rooms on the second and third floors accommodated the needs of local working men and minorities. The original owners were John H. Maitia and John Etcheverry. In 1935 Sam Maruri, a hotel tenant, acquired the Royal. He and his family, immigrants from Spain, catered to fellow Basques who worked for the sheep industry locally. For many years both the wool clip and lambs were shipped by wool buyers and meat packing houses from Ogden by rail.
After the Royal’s construction in 1914 the area around Union Station became a center
of commerce, entertainment, and lodging into the 1960s. Several other hotels were constructed around the same time, including the Healy and New Brigham hotels on Wall Avenue and the Marion, Windsor, and Helena hotels on 25th Street.
Directly behind the Royal Hotel a comparably sized brick structure was built sometime between 1920 and 1930. Its main purpose was for the playing of jai-alai, a very fast court game for two to four players who use a long basket strapped to the wrist to propel a ball against a wall. The Basque immigrants no doubt saw this game as an important part of their heritage. This building is the only known structure in the state built especially for jai-alai and one of few that embodies the culture of the state’s small Basque population. In the early 1940s large trucks took over the transportation of sheep, bypassing the Union Station area, and the hotel’s association with Basques came to an end.
On May 5, 1943, the Royal Hotel was sold to Leager V. Davis, an Ogden woman originally from Louisiana. She and her husband, Alonzo, wanted a place to accommodate members of the local African American community, primarily the porters and waiters working for the railroads. At that time there were few places where they could stay in Ogden because of segregation and the lack of equal housing opportunities. Other than the Porters and Waiters Club, the Royal was the only hotel designated for the black community. During World War II a basement room in the hotel served as an office for African American MPs.
Leager Davis was very active in Ogden’s black community. During her ownership of the Royal she served on the Board of Directors of the YWCA and the Comprehensive Health Planning Commission and as head of the governor’s Anti-Discrimination Board.
She was also active in the Ogden Chapter of the NAACP, the United Fund, the League of Women Voters, and the Democratic Women’s Club. The Royal Hotel hosted the meetings of many of these community organizations. The NAACP named an achievement award in Davis’s honor. She died in 1973.
The Royal Hotel was recently rehabilitated by Kier Corporation, and the jai-alai building now serves as a parking area for apartment tenants. The Royal is part of the Lower 25th Street Historic District and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Source: Nomination Form, Lower 25th Street Historic District, National Register files, Preservation Office, Utah Division of State History.
Although I couldn’t pinpoint any information on John H. Maitia and John Etcheverry, Sam Maruri does appear in Basques in the United States. Originally from Amoroto (Bizkaia), he was born on February 6, 1894, and arrived in the US in 1912, at the tender age of 18. He initially went to Boise and married Josefa Osa, from Mutriku, and together they had three children. By 1917, he had moved to Utah to work as a miner, but this was short lived since, by 1920, he was managing the hotel. As the article states, he bought the Royal in 1935 and ran it until 1940. He died in Ogden in 1974, having received citizenship in 1925.
Lastly, in an interesting turn of events, the Royal Hotel now provides low-income housing for the Ogden community. Read more at: http://fox13now.com/2015/10/25/historic-hotel-turned-housing-for-low-income-residents-in-ogden-gets-new-name-and-new-look/