As part of our First Annual Napa Valley Lodging Industry Hall of Fame Ceremony, we have compiled a series of biographies of the historic inductees. This short history of Swen Alstrom is the first of five articles. It comes from History of Napa and Lake Counties, California, published by Slocum, Bowen & Co., (San Francisco, Slocum, Bowen & Co., 1881).
“Alstrom, Swen. Was born in Carleshom, Sweden, October 5, 1825, and there resided until he was twenty-five years of age, where he received a common school education. In May, 1851, the subject of this sketch came to America, arriving in Boston, Massachusetts, July 10th of the above year, where he sojourned until March, 1852. He then sailed for California on board the T.B. Wales, coming via Cape Horn, and after a voyage of one hundred and forty-five days arrived in San Francisco. He immediately found employment in the Rasset House, where he remained only a short time, and then proceeded to the mines in Grass Valley, but by reason of the Sacramento fire and the flood of that year he returned to San Francisco, and found employment as a porter in the Occidental Hotel, which situation he held for six years. He then, April 12, 1859, became proprietor of the above hotel, where he remained until the spring of 1861. In the meantime he purchased the White Sulphur Springs property, in Napa County, and from 1861 to 1866 he was partner in the Lick House under the firm name of Alstrom & Co. In the latter year Mr. Alstrom moved to Napa County, and engaged in running his hotel at the above mentioned springs. He owned this valuable property some twenty years, and conducted the hotel for fifteen years, when it was sold in 1879. He then moved to St. Helena, and in April, 1881 he erected the fine hotel he now occupies, the Windsor, which was opened to the public, June 11, 1881. Mr. Alstrom is generous to a fault and is obliging and accommodating in his business relations, and withal the right man in the right place. The subject of this sketch was united in marriage, in San Francisco, in 1860, to Miss Mary Bremberg, a native of Sweden, by which union they have the following children: Sophia, Josie, Annie, John, Mamie, Oscar, and Herbert. ”
A few quick notes about the above transcription, generously provided by Mariam Hansen and St. Helena Historical Society. The original biography contains several inaccuracies and misspellings, some of which are addressed here:
Carleshom is likely Karlshamn, a small locality in the southern tip of Sweden established in 1664 and with about 19,000 citizens today. At the time Alstrom lived there, the town’s main source of income was from agricultural and mineral production and had less than 6,500 residents.
The biography claims Alstrom worked at both the Rasset House and the Occidental Hotel. The Rasset House was located in Happy Valley, either the area in San Francisco or the town just south of Redding. The Occidental Hotel was built between 1861 and 1869, but opened in 1861. It was another of San Francisco’s early luxury hotels, this one taking up the southeast corner of Montgomery and Bush Streets. Many celebrities stayed at the Occidental, and it may have even been the site of the invention of the Martini. The building was severely damaged in the 1906 earthquake and destroyed by the subsequent fire. However, the timeline does not match between his employment and the dates the hotels were established. An article in Sacramento Daily Union has his as the proprietor of the Occidental in November 1862, implying either the newspaper or the biography are slightly inaccurate.