Lights Out for California

The California Saloon was built in 1905, by Al White who later sold it to employees, Billy Koon and Fred Martin. In 1912, Martin bought out Koon’s interest and ran the place until 1914, when he failed to raise the funds needed to renew his liquor license.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – June 26, 1914


The California, the largest saloon in the North and a pioneer among Fairbanks saloons, is no more after tonight. The license of the California expires tonight, and Fred Martin goes out of business as a saloon man, forever.

Everybody who has ever visited Fairbanks knows the California. More men have “registered” there in the years gone by than at any other similar resort in the North. The California played to the “roughneck” trade but caught all classes. The largest place in Fairbanks it was none too large in the early days, and many a time its capacity has been strained by the people who thronged it. Enough liquor has been sold there to float the largest steamship afloat, and thousands of hungry men have been fed at the famous annual Christmas dinners given by Fred Martin. The first place the workingmen struck for when he hit town was the California, and it was generally the last place he left when he left town.

Times have changed in Fairbanks, and people have changed with them. Some of us (most of us) refuse to believe that the change is permanent and insist upon continuing along the same old lines and making them “come to us,” but Fred Martin is not that kind—he recognizes the changed conditions and welcomes them gladly. He is tired of the booze-selling game and believes he can make a living with more ease and greater satisfaction than in the saloon business, so when the midnight choo-choo leaves for Alabam tonight it takes with it the last inclination of the proprietor of the California to run a saloon.

From tomorrow on, the California will be a billiard and pool hall, a confectionary and cigar store, a bowling alley and all those harmless places of amusement to which even the ladies of the city can go with pleasure and profit.

Who is there to say that Fred Martin has not chosen the better part? Surely, not us.

Note: After the California Saloon closed, it was sold a couple of times and Fred Martin moved to Anchorage. It came to a final sad end on December 21, 1915, when it burned to the ground due to a faulty gasoline light in the bar. Fairbanks has never been the same since. This History Nugget has been proudly brought to you by Fairbanks Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska. 

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