Photographs of the Sea Gull Fire by David John Russell, courtesy of his son David P. Russell. David P. Russell contributed greatly to this blog entry. Think in the Morning appreciates his time and concern and advice.
The Sea Gull Restaurant and Cellar Bar burned to the ground on December 12, 1976. Think in the Morning wrote about this sad event in two previous blogs: Fire ! and After the Fire.
David P. Russell, former Sea Gull employee, MCN computer expert, and local photographer in his own right recently unearthed several original photographs taken by his father on the day of the fire. These are posted below with some brief comments.
By the time the firemen arrived on the scene, the Sea Gull was fully engulfed by the fire and threatening the Mendocino Fire Department next door. To the right in the photograph (south side of the restaurant) one fireman on the roof of the firehouse and another on a ladder precariously leaning on the front work to prevent the fire from damaging the firehouse. The picture is taken on Lansing Street facing the Sea Gull building. A few fire fighters are barely visible through the smoke on the left side as is the original Sea Gull sign. The sign was one of the few items that survived the fire.
A number of firemen are inspecting the north side of the restaurant. To the left, not shown, is the historic Stauer house. At the time it was a residence. Today it is Frankie’s restaurant. While the fire is not visible on the outside, the inside behind the exterior wall (the restaurant kitchen area) was burning and the heat was immense. Less than a year before the fire, the kitchen area had been remodeled with sheetrock and ceramic floor tiles. These improvements slowed down the fire and saved the home next door.
Another picture from the north side shows the roof beginning to cave in.
Another shot of the west side along Lansing Street shows that the fire-block wall on the south side served its purpose of protecting the Mendocino Fire Department. Given the narrow space between the restaurant and the fire house, the fire would have surely spread without the wall. Two firemen are spraying water into the the Cellar Bar while another, standing dangerously on an outside window box area, is looking into the dining room.
Another shot from Lansing street along the west side shows a better view of the fire department. Water was a major concern. The Fort Bragg Fire Department brought water, trucks, and firefighters down to Mendocino. Additional sources of water were trucked in by the Mendocino firemen and a temporary water holding apparatus was utilized on site.
The above photograph shows the old sign and a metal planter attached to the wall by the front entrance to the restaurant. Its also shows a few people watching along Ukiah Street on the north side of the restaurant.
A similar view as the previous picture, this is closer to the building and shows a better view of the sign. The fully destroyed inside is partially visible. Dozens of antique advertising signs and unusual decor were lost in the fire, many of local historical interest. Thanks to the quick and efficient response by the two fire departments, no lives were lost. And, the fire department to the south and the residence to the east were saved.
As the smoke dies down this photograph shows a clearer view of the front of the restaurant and Ukiah Street to the north.
This photograph from the SW corner of Lansing and Ukiah streets shows a larger view of the restaurant and its surroundings. The telephone lines were destroyed by the fire and many local residents were without phone service for several days.
The fire was very hot and continued for a very long time. Here two firemen are guiding a hose to spray into the west side of the restaurant. The windows of the dining room and cellar bar on the south side (right side in the photograph) are still intact at this point. There are several large redwood burls and logs visible in all the photographs that were placed around the restaurant to give structure to the parking areas and entrance.
The smoke increases as the water is applied to the fire. On the left up high you can see a wooden frame still hanging. The frame was for a white metal seagull that has been detached by the fire and is lying on a pile of debris below the frame.
A clearer and closer view of the firemen working on the west side.
A view of the scene of the fire taken from in front of the Masonic Lodge (Savings Bank). I can remember walking from the Sea Gull to the Savings Bank early every morning to make a deposit before there were any cars or people on the street. The view of the ocean, visible in this photograph, was always spectacular. It still is.
A view of the Masonic Lodge with fire trucks and equipment in front at the corner of Lansing and Ukiah streets. The sky is filled with smoke from the fire.
Another view of the Masonic Lodge (Savings Bank).
Fireman standing in the entrance to the now burned out restaurant.
Spraying water from the north side in at attempt to stop the spread of the fire east toward the residence.
On the north side it hardly looks like there is a fire. The exterior of the building appears almost fully intact. But, if you look closely, you can see that the roof is caving in and that the smoke is emerging as the fire eats its way out of the interior.
Another view of the north side that shows the residence behind the restaurant scorched from the intense heat from the fire. The lack of flames is deceptive. The entire restaurant is burning from the inside out. The heat was so intense that it cracked some of the windows on the north side of Ukiah street.
A view from the north side that shows the building smoking throughout while a peaceful ocean lies in the distance.
The fire is under control and the crew is now trying to bring things to a close.
The house, singed black on one side, has been saved. The restaurant is a total loss.
Sadly, fires continue when least expected. The recent fire in Fort Bragg on April 26, 2017 was horribly destructive. While, thankfully, no lives were lost, the lifework of several artists was irretrievably lost. Looking back on the Sea Gull fire which is now ancient history may be nostalgic but the recent fire is fresh and still painful. Think in the Morning recommends you contribute to the GoFundMe accounts or other local charities to help the artists involved or donate to them directly. And, while you’re at it, do something to help our local fire departments. Volunteers risk their lives to help us when we need them and they deserve our support.
Great Blog ….
I always wondered about the events of this fire .
One story I heard was, a fire truck was parked close to the Sea
Gul and the tail light plastic cover on the truck started to melt it was so hot from the fire .
I am totally waiting for the story of the rebuild of the sea Gul Restaurnt by people like David Clayton and Dick Baham and Bill Rienstra etc….let’s hear the story …how did it happen ?
Who got the permit and who did the electrical and plumbing ?
Thank you for the good read .
Thanks Matt. Here is the first part https://thinkinthemorning.com/?s=Rebuild
Second part to come
I can’t imagine, even after all these years, how painful it must be to look at these pictures and narrate the story. A great piece of history, David
We live in a world where everything can combine with oxygen. It’s the constant lurking potential. It’s one of the reasons people invent “Paradise;” they yearn for a realm where the laws of physics don’t apply…no time, no gravity, no decay, no fire.
I was there that morning. I lived just down Ukiah street, next to the Beaujolais. I had to be up at dawn to get to my job at the sea urchin processing plant in Noyo Harbor. I lasted about three days at the job, and that’s another story, but one of those days was the day of the fire, so I was up and dressed.
David Russell took extraordinary pictures. He was on the scene for a lot of sea rescues and recoveries; amazing action shots.
And little did you know that the Sea Urchin was one of the rooms in the Sea Gull Inn next door.
Thanks for this piece of history, David Jones. I love the place so much, and grateful for you and all you do. Cheers, etc.
It warms my heart that you take the time to read and respond. Blogging is a solitary affair otherwise.
John Griffith Used to tell the story about the night the sea gull caught fire. He was in the cellar bar and a woman stood up on one of the couches and said she would take on any man in the bar that night. He thinks she was smoking and her cigarette fell in the cushions and started the fire.
John was the most polite person I ever had to cut off. One night He fell off the bar stool and about 45 minutes later he ordered another drink. I said john I can’t give you another drink and he asked my why. I said because you fell of the bar stool and he said , ” I did?” And I said yes, and he replied” well then by all means you should cut me off” , he then bid everyone good night and went home with a smile on his face.
That brought a smile to my face. Thanks.
Thanks so much for putting this history together, thanks to David for sharing his dad’s photographs. It really made my distant memories become sharper, I wasn’t there that day and I think I was in school in the bay area, but it certainly was a turning point or milestone in my knowledge of the history of Mendocino. Thank you for all that you did before that point and after!