Enclosed Water Tower with houses in background.

City Hotel Water Tower, 2023. The bungalow built in 1917 is in the background on the left. (Photographer: Robert Dominy)

The City Hotel Water Tower is the oldest standing water tower in the Mendocino Historic District. Built about 1873, this tankhouse provided water for J. E. Carlson’s City Hotel, which was located at the western end of Main Street. Carlson originally installed a windmill to pump water to the tank at the top of the water tower. When a fierce windstorm destroyed the windmill in 1886, a Shipman coal oil engine was installed, and the pump was powered by steam. In 1888, J. D. Johnson replaced the engine with a Cyclone windmill, “the best windmill on the market,” according to the Beacon.

The Mendocino Lumber Company acquired the hotel property in 1917. Believing the abandoned hotel to be a fire hazard for their buildings on the west side of Heeser Street, company owners had the hotel building torn down and built a new bungalow in its place.

By 2002, the 130-year-old water tower leaned precariously to the east, and owners Rich and Carol Aguilar made plans to rehabilitate the structure. The Beacon reported on the restoration effort which began in 2003. “The present owner Rich Aguilar used the tank/tower until 1999 and has worked to stabilize it in the past with cables, steel “I” beam, 40-foot steel brace and screw jacks. Buried railroad ties that he put in 20 years ago under the redwood foundation had sunk nearly a foot into the old well. Wednesday, July 16, saw it picked up, supported and fitted with wheels ready to move Thursday. The movers, Walker and Sons, made it look easy as they winched it out of the way for foundation work. The lower nine feet of framing will be replaced due to rot, but the rest of the framing and siding will be reused as much as possible by Rosenthal Construction. It will then be rotated a quarter turn (windows to the bay) and replaced on the exact previous footprint.”

The following April, Mr. Aguilar announced that the tower restoration was complete. “The old tower stands straight and proud. The original framing was pre­served, all but the bottom 3-4 feet which had to be replaced due to rot, and now it rests on a concrete foundation and has a new roof. About 65 percent of the old siding was repaired, oiled, and reused. The old redwood 8 x 8 beams and 3 x 14 joists were still solid and impressive, as were some of the old square iron nails. The intent is to utilize it as a shop, guest bedroom and studio. It has proven to be more costly than building all new, but she’s extra solid, looks great, and should be good for another 100 years.”

Saturday, June 10th! Celebrate the Water Tower Wonderland exhibit opening. 4-5pm: Kelley House members will enjoy a private preview and reception. 5-7pm: General public invited for refreshments and cookies as part of the local art walk. Quench your thirst and satisfy your curiosity about water towers during Mendocino’s Second Saturday Art Walk. Using historic photographs, art from local artists, and small-scale models, the exhibit explores the majesty and functionality of many well-known towers, including several still standing and many that aren’t, including a 3 foot model of the Kelley House’s original 1879 water tower. On display will be renderings of Mendocino water towers in several media, with serigraphs by Anne Kendall Foote and Bill Zacha, a quilt square by Dee Goodrich, and a woodcut by Emmy Lou Packard.