Have you ever eaten at the in downtown San Leandro? You could have dined at a fine restaurant in the same spot more than 150 years ago. The Estudillo House, an elegant restaurant and hotel, was established in 1855. Back then, the area was a cattle ranch belonging to Juana Estudillo, the widow of the land grant rancher José Joaquin Estudillo who was one of the Spanish elite of Mexican California.
But California was changing dramatically and rapidly after the end of the Mexican War, when California became a part of the United States. The discovery of gold the same year as the treaty that ended the war (1848) brought tens of thousands of new people flooding in to California.
Two sons-in-law of Juana Estudillo, William Heath Davis and John Ward, hoped to grab a piece of that action. In the early 1850s, they convinced Juana to donate two hundred acres of her land to them, and they began building and planning a new town, to be called San Leandro after the Estudillo’s .
By 1855, they had completed at least three buildings, including the grand hotel and restaurant they named after their inlaws. Timbers for the Estudillo House construction were brought by ship around the tip of South America, and it was luxuriously furnished.
For several decades the fancy hotel and restaurant expanded its buildings and services to meet the needs of the growing community of San Leandro. The Estudillo House became the anchor for San Leandro Plaza as businesses were established along East 14th Street (then called Haywards Road) and Washington (then called Watkins) in the new town.
Today’s East 14th Street was the route of the stage coach, so passengers on the long journey from Oakland to San Jose could enjoy a respite in the fine dining room.
Ward and Davis also built a plank road from the Estudillo House to the Bay, so hotel guests could easily reach the ferries that were frequently a more pleasant means of travel than stage coach on rutted and often muddy or dusty roads.
Around 1872, Prosper Godchaux took over the management of the hotel and restaurant and soon thereafter bought it. A native of France, Godchaux offered French cuisine in the dining room, advertising “private dining rooms, fine private picnic grounds, French dinners served in the best style at all hours, day or night. Fifty-five minutes to San Francisco.” He would continue as the hotel and restaurant proprietor for almost half a century.
When the Oakland, San Leandro, and Haywards Electric Railway opened in 1892, the Estudillo House became a stop on the streetcar line. By this time, the building had been expanded and a picnic grounds with a grape arbor had been added on the south side.
The Estudillo House was a gathering place for townspeople, who patronized the French dining room, the picnic grounds, and the ballroom, or gathered out front to show off their bicycles and later their new cars.
The that appeared in Patch in November was taken at this town center.
The Estudillo House also attracted a clientele from far away. San Franciscans, including Mayor Sutro, would come and stay for a few days or a few months to enjoy San Leandro’s “country” atmosphere.
The "Black Prince" Peter Jackson and Jim Corbett were guests, as were “Borax” Smith, Abe Ruef, and the Chabot family.
Lotta Crabtree provided entertainment at a Christmas Eve ball in the Estudillo House in 1858. She was only eleven years old at the time, but according to the newspaper she was “the brightest little star of the evening.”
The Estudillo House was torn down in 1929. San Leandro was growing and modernizing. The automobile had replaced the horse and buggy and would soon replace the streetcar, and the country town would soon be a modern industrial suburb.
But the Estudillo House had been there from the beginning, providing food, lodging, and entertainment to the people of San Leandro and to those who came from afar to enjoy the San Leandro countryside.