A Castle on the Hill
Born of a golden era, the history of Claremont Club & Spa dates back to the early days of the Gold Rush, when a Kansas farmer by the name of Bill Thornburg "struck it rich." He came to California with his daughter and his wife who dreamed of living in an English Castle. Thornburg purchased 13,000 acres (part of the old Peralta and Vicente Spanish grants) to fulfill his wife’s dream and built the castle and several stables, which housed pedigreed hunters and jumpers. He hired Cockney grooms to care for them and raised English foxes for hunting parties.
Shortly after Thornburg's daughter married a British Lord and moved to England, Mrs. Thornburg died. Bill Thornburg subsequently sold the "castle" to a family by the name of Ballard. While the Ballard family was out on July 14, 1901, a dry and windy day, tragedy struck and the castle burned to the ground. As the municipal water supply was not well regulated, the volunteer fire department was helpless when the hot, dry summer winds blew flames across the Berkeley Hills, also destroying many other homes in the area. Only the Ballard livery stables, barn and some of the costly furnishings survived the fire.
A Lucky Game of Checkers
The destroyed property fell into the hands of Frank Havens and “Borax” Smith, a famous miner. They planned to erect a resort hotel on the property with trains running directly into the lobby. However, these plans were abandoned. One night, Havens, Smith and John Spring, a Berkeley capitalist, played a game of checkers in the old Athenian Club of Oakland with the stakes being the property. As legend goes, Havens won.
The Claremont Hotel Company
Havens and the “Claremont Hotel Company” began building in 1905, but the infamous earthquake of 1906 and subsequent Panic of 1907 interrupted construction. The additional land the Claremont Club & Spa now rests on was purchased in 1908 and after much turmoil, The Claremont Hotel opened for business in 1915 as the sprawling Mediterranean hostelry seen today. From the charming rural surrounding and expansive veranda and lobby, larger than any other hotel on the Pacific Coast, to the on-site private school and radio station, The Claremont Hotel was one of the nation’s grand transient and resident hotels. In 1937 Claude Gillum, who had been with The Claremont since 1926, purchased the property for $250,000 and virtually rebuilt it from the foundation up, completely refurbishing the interior.