B. F. Hasting Building

B.F. Hastings Building The B.F. Hastings Building looms large in the history of early California. Few buildings have had such a long venerable history. It was, for instance, the first permanent home of the California Supreme Court. The building also housed the western terminus of the Pony Express and California's first two telegraph companies. In one of its rooms, California's first railroad was planned.

The site of the Hastings Building was originally part of a land grant given to John Sutter by the Mexican government in 1841. Later, in 1848, Sutter sold the property to William Petit, who in turn sold it to Wesley Merritt. Merritt began to improve the property, building a store at the location in 1851.

The great Sacramento fire in November 1852 totally destroyed Merritt's new store, as well as most of the business district. Less than a month later, however, Merritt started to rebuild his business at the comer of Second and J Streets. Unfortunately, financial setbacks prevented him from completing the new structure. As a result, the property was seized and sold at a sheriffs auction in March of 1853 to Benjamin F. Hastings for the sum of $1500. Hastings took clear title to the building in October.

One of the first tenants in Hastings' building was Wells, Fargo & Co., which moved to the comer site in January 1854. The new quarters enabled the Company to provide a full-range of banking and express services to the burgeoning Sacramento community. Wells Fargo remained in the Hastings Building for nearly four years.

The second floor of the building originally was partitioned and rented as office space. At the end of 1854, however, the floor was remodeled as the new quarters of the California Supreme Court. On February 3, 1855, the Sacramento Union reported that the facility was ready for occupancy and "the court will meet on Monday next."

The Court remained in the Hastings Building for almost three years. But in December 1857, it moved to the newly constructed Jansen Building, located at the comer of 4th and J Streets, where it remained through 1859. In December of that year, however, Sacramento newspapers reported that the Court would return to its original home in the Hastings Building. For the next ten years, with a few interruptions, the Court heard many gifted orators and legal tacticians plead their cases in the Hastings Building. In December 1869, the Court relocated to its quarters in the new state capitol, where it heard its first case on December 3, 1869.

Another important occupant of the Hastings Building was Theodore D. Judah, a young, brilliant, and dynamic engineer from the East who was stated to be Chief Engineer for the proposed Sacramento Valley Railroad. The railroad, incorporated in 1852, was scheduled to connect Sacramento and Folsom.

Following his arrival in Sacramento, Judah established his office on the second floor of the Hastings Building and commenced work on the plans for California's first railroad. He maintained his office there until February 1855, when actual construction began on the line. One year later, in February 1856, the line linking Sacramento with Folsom was completed.

But Theodore Judah had a vision that carried him far beyond Sacramento and Folsom. He envisioned a great transcontinental railroad that would bring the nation together. In particular, it was Judah's determined effort and innovative design and engineering, that enabled railroad builders to cross the rugged Sierra Nevada - a major obstacle in the path of the railroad. Tragically, Judah never saw his dream realized. In 1863, while traveling to the east through the Isthmus of Panama, Judah contracted yellow fever and died shortly thereafter. Though he was not there when the gold spike was driven into the ground at Promontory Point, Utah in 1869, California will nevertheless always remember Judah's achievements and dedication.

Two other notable tenants of the B.F. Hastings Building were the Alta California Telegraph Company and the California State Telegraph Company, the state's first two communication enterprises. In addition to the telegraph industry, the building was, from March to October 1861, the western terminus of the short-lived transcontinental Pony Express.

The later history of the Hastings Building does not match its colorful and dramatic beginnings. In June 1870, Hastings sold the building to his long time employee, William Uhler. Two years later, the site was leased to the A.H Cummings & Company, commission merchants. Still later, a fruit market and a hotel occupied the old building. And in the 1880's, a saloon was opened, followed by a succession of tenants, including a barber shop, a cigar store, and a rooming house.

In June 1967, the venerable building badly worn and showing its age, was purchased by the State of California to be part of the Old Sacramento restoration project. Today, through the restoration of the B.F. Hastings Building, much of the colorful history of early California has been preserved for the enjoyment and education of everyone.

Courtesy of Wells Fargo, 6/98