Last hotel in Alturas
The hotel, one of the tallest buildings in the city, was built in 1908 and served ranchers, loggers, farmers, and business owners. For a time, Alturas had two other large hotels; one burned to the ground and the other was demolished.
When Jim and Elizabeth Cavasso bought the shuttered Niles in 2011, it had been neglected for more than a decade, he said.
“When I was little, I grew up here, it was a landmark. It was the place,” said Jim Cavasso, 67, a self-described “community guy” who is active in the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce. . “We were watching the whole story, our childhood memories, fall apart.”
In a small town, he said, you take pride in what you have. And Alturas has the Nilos.
The Cavassos bought a building with broken windows, a caved-in roof, and broken pipes. Pigeons and bats had gotten in there; also some naughty children.
There were bees and a giant honeycomb between the walls. (A local beekeeper harvested the honey and they sold it in the cafeteria downstairs.)
It was too expensive to hire contractors, Cavasso said, so the townspeople helped fix up the place, one room at a time. The rooms, which have themes like “Angler Heaven” and “Homestead,” were designed by members of the community. The exterior received over 500 gallons of paint.
The work is in progress. “That old lady really likes to have her back scratched,” Cavasso said of the building.
Is it haunted? Probably, said Cavasso.
Cavasso said that, at one point, his wife, Elizabeth, a Modoc County supervisor and longtime wildland firefighter, was working on the third floor and saw a ghostly face.
“Right in front of his face was a woman,” he said. “It was brief and she left.”
Unlike Weaverville’s owners, Cavasso welcomes visiting paranormal investigators with their ghost hunting gear.
He admits, with a laugh, that some people are frightened by Victorian-era portraits, especially a painting of a grim-faced baby in a frilly white robe, which are original to the building. People swear that the eyes follow them.
Whether there really was a prostitute who died in the hotel and now frequents the place, the details are unclear.
According to a May 1953 article in the Modoc County Record, the local district attorney proclaimed that there were no sex workers in the county after reading “an article in a metropolitan newspaper” that claimed that Alturas was open to prostitution.
“Just when we think we’ve got a nice, clean little county, a story comes out in one of the big-city newspapers that topples our near-perfect criminal record,” the front-page story proclaimed.
But in the hotel lounge, where the smell of wood-burning stoves wafts through the air, the ghost is as real as the polar bear pelt on the wall. On a recent Thursday night, Stone, the bartender, told the story of a frightened male guest.
“He said he woke up to something tugging at his pillow and rolled over and pushed him down on the bed,” he said. As he told the story, the guest held out his arm. His hair stood up.
Sitting at the bar was Rubén Martínez, 63, drinking a bottle of Heineken. A member of the Pit River Tribe who grew up in Alturas, he and his late wife held his wedding reception in Niles in 1993.
She has spoken to male guests who said the ghost was rubbing their backs. After some recent construction work, she said, there has been a lot of “strange activity”: things appearing in different places, doors opening by themselves, places suddenly feeling cold.
Jason Michael, who is 44 and works in finance, was sitting a few stools away. During the pandemic two years ago, he and his wife moved with his young daughter to Alturas from Los Angeles. They were drawn to the cool mountain air and cheap land, and were able to work remotely.
“I love being up here,” he said. “It’s super relaxing. Slow.”
Michael’s wife and daughter recently showed him an iPhone video they took in a hallway at the Niles. They thought they were alone, but when they played the video, they heard someone whistling.
They hadn’t heard him as they walked through the halls. They are sure that he was a ghost.
The four women from West Sacramento chose the Niles precisely because it has character. Bateman was on a work trip, outfitting California Highway Patrol officers with bulletproof vests. Her friends accompanied her, as they usually do.
For Jennifer Engstrom, 61, the Niles brought back memories of the Sutter’s Hotel, the gold-rush-era hotel in Amador County that her great-uncle owned when she was a child. Formerly called the Bellotti Inn, it is said to have once housed tunnels, now filled in, which were used during Prohibition to smuggle alcohol through town.
“This place reminds me a lot,” said Engstrom, who owns a Grocery Outlet in West Sacramento.
Sipping their vodka on Niles’s second-floor landing from glasses brought from home, the women pointed to the old portraits on the walls, making up names and stories about each one.
There was the long-lost cousin who was sent to The War. No specific war, just The War. And another cousin, who was angry because he did not receive the inheritance.
Bateman pointed to a gilt frame inlaid with flowers, containing sketches of a mustachioed man in a tuxedo and a serious woman in a stiff-collared dress.
“Those are my great-grandparents,” he joked. “Ralph and Ilene. They came from Iowa. They wanted to come to California to find gold. She divorced him because she slept with prostitutes.”
Probably the ghost of ‘that bum’ that lives here,” said Gail Klauer, 70, a retired chief of staff for a Yolo County supervisor, who was there with his wife, Terri LeDoux, a retired prison commandant.
“She’s not a bum,” Bateman said. “You don’t know her.”
Perhaps, they mused, she was the woman whose portrait hung at the end of the room: a pale-skinned young woman, a stole slung from her slender shoulders, looking away from the chamber.
Klauer, imagining the ghostly life of the sex worker, suddenly turned serious.
“Women at that time had no choice,” she said. “They needed to eat. They needed to survive. They may or may not have children that they are supporting. They couldn’t shovel… They couldn’t work in the mines. They couldn’t work in the kitchen. All the cooks were men; the servers were men.” .
If she haunted the hotel, the women said, more power to her.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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