|Hotel Mac Restaurant on the Block? Say it Ain't So!
July 30, 2011
Even as the venerable Hotel Mac restaurant celebrates its 100th anniversary this month, the restaurant is apparently being listed for sale by broker J. Back & Associates Restaurant Real Estate in Danville (see http://www.loopnet.com/Listing/17264367/50-Washington-Ave-Point-Richmond-CA/).
The hotel component of the Hotel Mac is not part of the listing, which is copied below.
Hotel Mac Restaurant
50 Washington Ave, Point Richmond, CA 94801
Business For Sale
Last Verified 7/27/2011 Listing ID 17264367
The Hotel Mac Restaurant and Bar opened for business in 1978 under the current ownership and has enjoyed great success. It is located in a historic building dating back 100 years. The restaurant has fantastic tin ceilings, beautiful stain glass windows, and custom wood work throughout. There is a banquet room accessed by an elevator, fantastic long bar and dining rooms on two levels. There is also a wine cellar with a dining table for private dining. This is a one of a kind facility that has helped make this one of the bay area's most unique successful restaurants. The owners are retiring but the staff is very stable and the restaurant enjoys very good customer loyalty.
History of the Hotel Mac
The Hotel Mac, originally the Colonial Hotel, was constructed in 1911 by entrepreneur Kate Riordan, an Irish immigrant, who had been running the St. James Hotel on Cottage Avenue after fleeing San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake. Richmond was in a growth spurt at the time, and hotels, restaurants, bars and boarding houses were in demand by refinery and railroad employees.
The architect was C.O Clausen, uncle of Richmond engineer Bert Clausen, and the construction cost was $25,000. The hotel had 30 rooms, typically small and intended for single men.
Although the 20th Amendment was not passed until 1920, California adopted full voting privileges for women in 1911, and Kathryn (Kate) Theresa Riordan was the first woman in Contra Costa County to register as a citizen and as an unmarried woman with rights and privileges to vote.
Below: Kate Riordan
With one voice all present expressed their praise of the efforts of the most successful young businesswoman that the giant among the newer cities of the Golden gate had produced … and drank a toast to her personal worth … her success and in appreciation of her efforts.
In 1914, Kate Riordan married James Pope, “well-known Standard oil employee.” They had seven children who lived with them at the Colonial. In 1926, they traded the Colonial for a dairy ranch in Modesto and moved their big family to the country. “A culture shock,” one of their daughters, Elizabeth Pope of Berkeley, remembered, but one they adapted to happily.
Below: the original Hotel Mac Dining Room
During the years of WWII, the onslaught of shipyard workers looking for fast and cheap eats brought an end to fine dining. Those who knew him said McAfee lost heart, and he sold the building in the late 1940s. A series of ensuing managers failed to resurrect its former glory. The elegant façade was closed over and the interior “modernized,” making it look like any one of a hundred other nondescript dark bars.
In 1971, two fires did extensive damage to the top floor and roof. The bar had already been closed by owner John Nunez for “remodeling.”
Nunez then sold the building to Point Richmond real estate operator Hazel Carr, who had the roof structure replaced, but further work bogged down due to lack of funding. The building was condemned by the City of Richmond, and demolition was imminent.
In 1977, the building went into foreclosure, and Jim and Darlene Byers and we (Tom and Shirley Butt) hatched a plan to save it. We attended the foreclosure sale on the courthouse steps, and the bidding started with only one competitor, H.J. Shiells and Richard Burke. It quickly rose to $39,000. Byers pulled the plug, and the competing bidder went home with the deed to the Hotel Mac for $39,000. “That guy is just a flipper,” Byers told me. “He’ll be calling in a couple of days.” “If we had continued to bid,” said Byers, “ the price might have gone to $50,000, or more.”
Jim was right. Two days later the new owner of the Hotel Mac called, and we negotiated a purchase for $43,000. The Byers owned 75%, and we owned 25%. The building was a mess, and the first job was to lift the condemnation order. The next was to rehabilitee the building shell.
Design of the structural work for seismic bracing was already started by Clausen Engineers, who had designed the roof repair for Hazel Carr, and then completed by a structural engineer who left Clausen to start his own business. I (Tom Butt) provided architecture and construction management for the shell rehabilitation through Interactive Resources.
Money was as tight then as it is now. Point Richmond, which was pretty rough around the edges then, didn’t have any track record for successful real estate ventures. The famous Point Richmond Fourth of July riot was a recent memory for many. The village was virtually dead with people living in storefronts and Hell’s Angels routinely descending on the town to patronize the local bars. On any given Sunday, you might see hundreds of Harleys parked from Tewksbury (which was then the main highway) to West Richmond Avenue. Bar patrons spilling out into the street to settle differences was common.
We had to keep the construction cost down, and one way of doing it was to apply for Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives, which then consisted only of accelerated depreciation. But anything would help. I looked into getting the Mac onto the National Register of Historic Places so it would qualify, but it was not significant enough as an individual building. However, Caltrans had recently conducted a National Register eligibility study for Point Richmond as a historic district in conjunction with planned improvements that preceded but eventually became a part of I-580. The State Office of Historic Preservation had deemed Point Richmond “eligible” as a district.
Knowing the outcome would be positive, I recruited Lucretia Edwards and several other neighbors to help inventory the buildings and prepare a formal National Register application. We were successful, and Point Richmond Historic District was entered on the National Register in 1978. The Hotel Mac was listed as a “contributing structure,” along with some 330 others. We were in!
Construction of the building shell was completed in 1978 for about $250,000, but we needed tenants. Interactive Resources was providing structural work for a restaurant, Steamer Gold Landing, in the historic Great Petaluma Mill at the time. I asked the restaurant designer, Geoff Beckham, if he know of any restaurateurs looking for a location. As it turned out, he did. He introduced us to Bill Burnett and Griff Brazil, who had recently worked in the Ancient Mariner and Rusty Pelican restaurant chain. Burnett and Brazil, along with Jim Byers, proceeded to form a company and build out and open the “new” Hotel Mac restaurant and bar. They probably sent another $500,000 or more on the restaurant interiors and equipment.
One of the features of the restaurant was the faithful reproductions of the original dining room stained glass windows that had mysteriously disappeared sometime in the 1970s. Point Richmond artist John Haley recreated the original design from a black and white photograph. The new interior of the Hotel Mac did not replicate the historical, which no longer existed, but it set a tone that was certainly reminiscent and turned out to be immensely popular. The reborn Hotel Mac opened on December 27, 1978, to full houses that continued for many years. It was clearly the finest restaurant in Richmond and may still be.
Below: A young Bill Burnett anticipates opening day in 1978 (Richmond Independent, September 1978)
The restaurant occupied the first floor and part of the second. The remainder of the second floor and the third floor were rented to a software company. Many years later, the remainder of the second floor and the third floor were converted once again to hotel use.
While the New Hotel Mac had sparked somewhat of a renaissance in Point Richmond, the village was still a bit of the wild west. Street fights emanating from the infamous Mariner tavern across the street were frightening Hotel Mac customers. On occasion, shots were fired. The Byers and the Butts decided to buy the property and shut down the tavern, which turned out to have the desired result but apparently offended some of the former patrons. One late night, someone lobbed a heavy glass beer mug through our living room window, scaring the heck out of us. Fortunately, a neighbor who used to ride with some of the displaced patrons interceded and persuaded them to move on.
Several years later, the Byers and the Butts dissolved their partnership, with the Byers taking the Hotel Mac property and the Butts taking the former Mariner property. Both Jim and Darlene Byers are now deceased, and I assume the Hotel Mac property is owned by their heirs. The Mariner property ownership later expanded to include other principals of Interactive Resources who eventually entered into a joint venture with Richmond Development Company to build a new building across from the Hotel Mac. Also on the property is the El Sol restaurant, a structure rehabilitated from the historic Richmond Bakery.
After 33 years of successful operation, including hosting some of the biggest political deals and plots in Richmond history, the Hotel Mac restaurant will be passed on to yet a new owner, perhaps number seven or eight in a line that stretches back a hundred years. I hope the new owner respects the building’s history and continues to serve the City of Richmond as a place to meet, greet, eat and hatch political plots for many more years.
(Historical research that is the basis for the pre-1977 history of the Hotel Mac was done by Lucretia Edwards and published in the Point Counterpoint in 1977)