Before the gorgeous Victorian-era mansion at the corner of H and 10th Streets in Sacramento was a hostel, it was a private residence. Then a funeral parlor. Then a men’s-only social club, a popular restaurant and party venue, a near casualty of a development boom, and more. And between each of those past lives, the building was moving around, being hefted up in the air and inched carefully to different lots around downtown Sacramento.
The building itself was constructed in the 1885 by Llewellyn Williams, a transplant from Maine who came to Sacramento at the height of the Gold Rush. While Williams didn’t find his fortune in the fields, he did work his way up from store clerk to part-owner of the successful Pioneer Milling Company, making his name – and his wealth – as a prominent local businessman.
Williams built the grand, Italianate Stick-style mansion for himself and his family on H Street, then known as Merchant’s Row, in 1885. For the project, he commissioned local architect Seth Babson, who’d previously designed the city’s Crocker Family mansion (now a part of the Crocker Art Museum) and Leland Stanford mansion (formerly home to several California governors and now a State Historic Park open to the public).
After Llewellyn Williams’s death in 1891, the home passed hands several times. In 1907, the mansion’s new owners lifted the entire 350-ton home up and moved it 40 feet to the west, where it served as a funeral parlor for decades. In the early 1970s, it was leased to a local association of lawmakers, attorneys, and judges as meeting and social club space.
By 1978, the building had become a restaurant and venue called Mory’s Place – the Victorian. By night, it was a popular site for proms, weddings, and other celebrations; by day it served lunch to the downtown crowd.
In the late 1980s, after Mory’s closed, the property was sold once again, this time to a developer set on constructing a high-rise office building where the mansion stood. Rather than demolish the historic building, though, the developers agreed to donate the structure itself to American Youth Hostels, or AYH, now more commonly known as HI USA.
Suddenly owning such a grand building, though, presented AYH with a new set of problems: where to set up the hostel, since its current grounds weren’t an option, and then, of course, how to get it there. AYH eventually secured a large plot of land nearby on H street, and in 1994, the entire mansion was picked up and moved once again. AYH hired a local architect specializing in restoration to refurbish the building, focusing on interior period details including fireplaces and windows, and bringing the structure up to modern code. In 1995, AYH opened the property to the world as the Sacramento International Hostel.
And though the historic Llewellyn Williams mansion has remained a hostel ever since, the changes didn’t stop in 1995. In 2001, to make way for an expansion of Sacramento’s City Hall, the entire building was picked up and moved for a third time – this time, fittingly, back to the corner of H and 10th Streets, where its original lot had become available again. The hostel reopened in 2002, and has remained back where it all started ever since.
Visual reminders of the building’s past still abound at HI Sacramento hostel: this may be the only hostel in the world where you can eat your breakfast in a formal dining room complete with chandelier, or climb up to your room via a redwood staircase under a painted glass skylight. You can also see the building’s original pressed-copper wallpaper in the entryway, its original stenciled ceiling in the parlor, and its original street number, 900, through the window over the front entryway.
Now reopening the hostel for the first time since the pandemic, HI USA is bringing new changes to the historic building while paying tribute to its past.
“We’re leaning into the bohemian element of the hostel, as opposed to the Victorian theme,” says new General Manager Anthony Jones. “Every room will capture a bit of the building and the area’s history, but as well as forward momentum.”
Jones and his team are hard at work updating the hostel’s interior: décor in the “music room,” where guests can sit and play the piano, will honor women musicians of the past; the guest parlor, a favorite gathering spot, will showcase the cultures and traditions of many immigrant communities that have long called Sacramento home. In all kinds of ways old and new, the rich past of the building and the city itself will remain important parts of the HI Sacramento experience.
“We really want the hostel spaces to be conversation-starters between guests, not just backgrounds,” says Jones. And the hostel staff, he adds, will be on hand to take those conversations deeper. “I keep saying that the team will be docents first and everything else second.”
Book a stay to experience this historic beauty’s new style for yourself starting April 1, 2023.