By 1850s standards, the City Hotel was elegant. The lower floor had a saloon, a billiard room, and a dining room. It had a large staircase that could be entered from the street that led to the second story, where there were twenty private rooms with parlors. All of the rooms were carpeted and nicely furnished. One could climb to the roof to see a beautiful view up Washington Street of the north part of the city. The food of in the dining room was considered excellent, and for many years the City Hotel was viewed as one of the best hotels in California.
The proprieters of the hotel were Alonzo Green and Judge James Lane. Alonzo Green had come to the mines, passing through Woods' Diggings in 1849 where he saw two thousand miners enthusiastically working. For whatever reason, he decided that he didn't want to be a miner. Once in Sonora, he asked where he could find lodging, and was directed to the ground.
An oak tree next to the City Hotel was used to hang a man in one of the most tragic cases in the mining camps. A man named McBirnie went through the closed but not locked door of the office of the well-liked County Treasurer, where he had business. It was evening and the office was totally dark. He groped around, looking for matches to light a candle, and his foot struck an object on the floor, which turned out to be the dead body of the treasurer, Joseph Heslep. He struck a match and saw blood and brains oozing from the treasurer's head. He fled to find the authorities, and a coronerís jury was called that found a body not only so brutally murdered that its face was unrecognizable, but one with paper stuffed in its mouth.
One suspect answered many questions coolly, but, later, upon being shown a valise, exclaimed, "Ask me no more questions, I am the guilty man." The valise, found in the man's hotel room, contained blood stained garments, and $6000 in gold coins were found in an overcoat under a pillow--money from a safe in the treasurerís office.
A crowd formed that unanimously decided that the man should die at daybreak. The sheriff attempted to take the prisoner to jail to await a trial, but had no chance. The murderer confessed in more detail and wrote a letter to his wife in San Jose. At daybreak, the man was hung from the oak tree and left there.