In my last post I provided a bit of the history after the fire that destroyed the Sea Gull in 1976. The first weeks were consumed with clean up, planning, financing, architectural design, and obtaining the permits for the project.
I asked David Clayton to be the designer and builder for the new restaurant. David was not a licensed contractor. However, in California at that time it was possible for the property owner to serve as his own contractor. So, I took on that role although the actual work was done entirely by David and his crew. I didn’t know it at the time, but this choice would cause a few problems. A number of Sea Guil Employees also helped in the construction.
Mendocino from the time I arrived was a very welcoming community. One of the bright spots of The Sea Gull was that “old-timers” and “newcomers”, “straight” and “hip” all ate and drank together without the tensions that often occur when different philosophies mix. As I described in After the Fire, volunteers came out of the woodwork to help with the clean up and some offered blocks of time to help with the construction. It was truly an amazing thing to experience.
There was, however, a tension that I did not detect. Some of the licensed contractors were concerned with the arrangement I’d made with David and his crew. David’s foreman, Mike Nielson, was an experienced and talented carpenter who could hold his own alongside anyone. However, some of David’s crew were, let’s just say, unconventional. This ultimately caused a few problems.
First, we had to secure financing. The insurance was sufficient to repay all loans against the business. There was nothing left over. I owned the property free and clear but had no money to rebuild.
I remember the day Cathy and I together with David Clayton drove to Ukiah to meet with Martie Lombardi at the Savings Bank. We sat at Mr. Lombardi’s nice big desk with our “ocean view” pictures taken from the top of a ladder stretched as high as possible above the burned out structure. I had my business records for the past few years. They showed a successful restaurant just beginning to blossom.
“How do you propose to pay your living expenses until the new building is up and running?” asked Martie. I explained that Cathy was a schoolteacher and that her salary would be sufficient. That seemed to satisfy him.
He explained that the bank considered a restaurant to be a “risky” business and that the only way they would consider a loan was if we could get a Small Business Guarantee. This increased the paperwork and time frame but he thought it could be done.
After all the details were ironed out, it was time for lunch. I remember Mr. Lombardi with his head down furiously calculating and taking notes. At one point he said, without looking up, “So, Cathy will be the sole source of income during the process. That should be okay as long as she isn’t pregnant.”
Maybe he meant it as a joke. Little did he know that she was pregnant. Since he didn’t ask it as a question, I motioned to Cathy to remain silent and the moment passed.
Martie, as we now called him since we had agreed to do business, suggested we have lunch at the Palace Hotel next door. The Savings Bank had just refinanced the Hotel and he was very proud that they had named an entrée “Calamari Lombardi”. Needless to say we all ordered the calamari. Several years later, after the Palace Hotel had gone broke (again), Martie visited me at the Sea Gull in Mendocino. I had not missed a single payment nor would I in the future. He was grateful for that. We had no entrees named after him but my monthly check cleared every time.
I was anxious to get the new restaurant up and running as soon as possible, so I pushed the envelope of the building department’s rules and moved quickly forward. One afternoon I was told that Donald Uhr, the chief building inspector for the County, was on his way to the site.
“You better get ready, he’s “piping mad.”
The first question after he arrived was: “Who’s the contractor for this project?”
I proudly answered: “I am.”
“Let me see your permit.”
Uh oh, I thought and handed it over.
“This is a foundation permit!” he said with extra emphasis on “foundation.” “You have walls up, a floor, interior framing. What’s going on here? “
He was red in the face.
“Well sir, I’m trying to get my restaurant built so I can put all my employees back to work.”
“You need the proper permits. If you were a “real” contractor, I’d yank your license. And what’s this between the studs? Romex? For a commercial job you should have conduit. You’re gonna have to take this out, Jones, and have a licensed electrician put in conduit.”
I winced. David Clayton came to my rescue.
“Notice that we have 2×6 studs instead of the normal 2×4. We are going to fill all the gaps with fire retardant material. That should be as good or better than conduit.”
“Not according to the building code,” said Mr. Uhr, puffing out his chest and getting even redder in the face. “Close’em down,” he said to John Pillsbury, the building inspector on the coast.
John nailed up the sign.
A week later we were back in business. With the help of Francis Jackson who was on the appeals board for the building and planning department and attorney Tony Graham we convinced the appeals board that our plan was sufficient to meet the county standards. Donald Uhr was white in the face but he acquiesced.
We went back to work.
While David Clayton understood the importance of the volunteers, in some ways they actually hindered the process. Mistakes were made that had to be corrected. Once I watched as an enthusiastic local man we all knew was asked if he had carpentry experience.
David asked him to take two pristine rough sawed beams and to nail them to the deck for the back entrance. He went right to work and he nailed them down all right, banging the nails deep into the wood leaving hammer marks all over the beautiful beams. Poor David did his best to keep from exploding. Later David had to remove the beams and have them refinished so they could be used properly.
Things did eventually come together. Then we ran afoul of the Historical Review Board. We were building the upstairs bar and a local stained glass artist offered to design a beautiful large round window. Frankly, it seemed like such a good idea that no one even thought that it would require an amendment to our HRB permit. Since the stained glass was not completed, we put in a clear round window temporarily. Someone noticed and filed a complaint with the building department. There we were, back with a Stop Work Order again.
As it turned out, the Review Board was very helpful and accommodating. They scheduled an early meeting so that our progress would not be slowed down for more than a couple of days. Comments were made, discussions occurred, and finally I remember Delbert Schlafer summarizing the board’s conclusion: “I think this will be a betterment and not a determent to the community.”
We were on our way again.
To Be Continued …
SOME NEWS ARTICLES FROM THE TIME
Big River News, January 1977
Sea Gull to Rise Again
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Sea Gull restaurant and bar will be rebuilt and ready to reopen probably by June of this year, according to owner David Jones.
Demolition of the ruined structure is currently in progress. The foundation and floor of the restaurant will be retained, as will the concrete wall on the building’s south side, but all else will be redone.
Jones is at present concluding negotiations to finance the rebuilding. He will most likely be receiving a loan from the Savings Bank of Mendocino County, for whose cooperation Jones had high praise.
Jones plans to build a structure similar to the old Sea Gull, but not identical: “If I tried to make it the same, everybody would be pointing out how it was different, so I won’t try. Anyway, rebuilding gives us a chance to make it more convenient and usable.” He does intend that the new structure have the same capacity serve the same kind of food and drink, and employ the same number of people as the old establishment.
If all goes smoothly, construction should begin by the end of February, Jones told the BRN.
Mendocino Beacon, Friday, February 25, 1977
Sea Gull to Fly Again
David and Cathy Jones were going to start building a new house. But the day before, the Sea Gull burned down.
“After you work on something for years … I just couldn’t walk away from it like that and leave it. The Sea Gull belongs there,” Jones said Wednesday.
Work is underway to demolish and rebuild a new Sea Gull. “I could hardly refuse to do it. I got so much positive feedback from so many people.”
David Clayton is the designer and builder.
“It’s an institution. That’s the scary part of it. There’s no way you can rebuild it the same. We’ll just try to retain the same atmosphere.”
One of the charms of the old Sea Gull (which went through many uses before being the coffee shop, dining room and bar that it was at the time it burned in an early-morning fire a few weeks before Christmas) was that “things were just wrong,” Jones remembers.
“For example, waitresses had to go through such awkward lengths to pick up their food. Doors were too small.”
Then clutter up the new building, Clayton suggests.
The first floor plan is the same: entrance at the corner of Ukiah and Lansing, a coffee shop, and dining room. They’ve kept the bay window.
A stairway to a basement storage area, which once led to The Cellar Bar, will be enclosed so it can be shut off (they don’t want any more fires spreading from the bottom up).
Jones would like to use a lot of local antiques, especially paraphernalia related to the logging industry. Loans would be greatly appreciated.
Dining room seating will be a little different, combining linear seating and booths for more privacy. Seating capacity is identical to the old Sea Gull’s.
“The old restaurant had a lot of things—interesting, quaint—that people liked,” Jones said. But they were put in before the code changed.
Remember the front door that opened inward? That has to be changed, but the bulletin board will be there.
But Jones sees the benefit. “It’ll be easier to work in and walk around in. We will try to keep the same general feeling there, but keep it so it’ll be safe.”
He hopes that local artists, craftspeople, including woodworkers, will put things in to display and to sell.
An attic bar will be on the second story, entrance by an outside stairway on Ukiah Street. Bar bathrooms will be upstairs.
The bar will be slightly bigger than the old one. There will be a deck looking out toward Big River, with outside seating, and the bay window extends upstairs. A fireplace is planned, probably in the center of the bar, with seating around it.
“We’re thinking of still calling it The Cellar,” Jones quipped.
A few weeks go someone lifted the Sea Gull sign that had survived the fire. “We’d like it back—no questions asked,” he said.
Demolition is proceeding rapidly this week. Wednesday, three men were on the site, working for no pay.
Next week framing is expected to start. More volunteer workers will be needed if the Sea Gull is to be rebuilt.
Cherie Christiansen, a waitress for four and a half years, is coordinating the drive for volunteers.
“Somebody said the morning of the fire that on a given morning that place is filled with enough talented people in this town that could help.”
“It’s true. There’s so many good talented people in this town that could help.”
Right after the fire “everybody from plumbers to carpenters, all of those people have all of those kinds of skills, came out and offered. Gibbs Roofing, to name one, has offered their services.”
There will be three steady carpenters on the job. Beginning next week, anyone who would like to contribute their time to the rebuilding can sign up for any amount of hours on any day they choose. A sign-up sheet will be posted at the Jones house just east of the project.
“People are offering materials at cost. People are willing to work. We’re going to try to use as many people as we possibly can,” said Clayton.
Volunteer help will begin, March 7.
The Sea Gull employed about 50 people. “A couple are here. The rest are all over but seem to be checking in. I feel a significant number will be working here when we re-open,” Jones said.
Lorna Young, daytime cashier has been working with David ever since the fire. Many others who worked in the restaurant helped in the demolition.
A few objects survived the fire and will be re-used—stainless steel stoves and sinks, a few antiques. Even the old sturdy fire wall next to the firehouse will be part of the new Sea Gull.
No major changes are planned. The food will be the same style, same kind of thing. They’ll try to keep prices as reasonable as possible.
“The thing that distinguished it was it was always open. We will continue with that. We’ll still have the best food on the coast,” Jones said.
The Mendocino Grapevine, January 13, 1977
Mendocino Residents Reclaim Their Town
By Stu Chapman
Like the legendary Phoenix, the Sea Gull is rising from its ashes.
In mid-December, the Sea Gull Inn, the most popular coffee shop and restaurant in Mendocino, was gutted by fire.
Since then the charred remains of the Inn have been a cinder in the eye of the tiny white-washed village. Its presence has been missed by the customers who met at the Sea Gull regularly and have had to find other places to meet at a time of year when many of Mendocino’s innkeepers and restaurant owners have closed for the winter.
But this week work crews were dismantling the burned skeleton of the Sea Gull to prepare for construction of a new one.
Owner David Jones told the Grapevine he expects construction on the new restaurant to start by the middle of next month, depending on his ability to get financing.
“We hope to be ready to reopen in early June,” said Jones, who lives in a house behind the inn.
He said he was arranging for financing for construction of a new building that will be erected by a local builder, David Clayton. “The new restaurant will not be identical to the old one—it’s impossible to duplicate it. For one thing, there were a number of paintings in the old bar that just can’t be replaced,” he said.
“But the new Sea Gull will not be grossly different than the old. It will have the same basic environment, the same clientele, and the same people working there,” he adds.
Jones said about 50 people, many of them part time workers, were employed at the restaurant and bar.
The owner said he has had so many people asking him about the inn’s reopening that, “I can’t walk to the post office in less than an hour and half.”
“It’s just not easy now to get coffee or breakfast in Mendocino at 8 in the morning. The Sea Gull was like a public meeting place as much as it was a restaurant,” he said.
The cause of the blaze has not been determined, “and never will be” says Jones. He said firemen believe the fire got started when someone left a cigarette in an overstuffed chair.
Jones, who lives behind the building, discovered the blaze when he went to open the restaurant and smelled smoke as he walked in on a Sunday morning. When he opened the door, flames leaped up the stairs from the cellar.
The cellar housed a cozy bar, one of the most popular features of the Sea Gull. Jones said the bar will not be the same in the new restaurant.
“But, we’re not going to turn it into a posh, exclusive bar. We’ll try to have the same homey feeling,” he said.
Most of the customers of the Sea Gull have been absorbed by the Foghorn Tavern or the Deli. But many others are complaining about the scarcity of restaurants and bars open in a town that seldom lacks diversion.
Part of the problem is that the Mendocino Hotel is also closed, at least until the middle of next month.
At the entrance to the hotel, a sign says it will be closed “in order to effect needed operational changes, repairs and maintenance.” The hotel’s manager, Barbara Burns, said the tentative reopening of the hotel is scheduled for Feb. 15. By that time the hotel hopes to have solved leakage problems, rebuilt some floors, and installed new appliances in the kitchen.
Burns said about 40 people were laid off but that these employees would be given first consideration when the hotel rehires its staff.
“We’re redefining the jobs,” she said. “Some of the jobs will not exist in the same form as before, but we plan on rehiring out old employees.”
The hotel will have a new menu for lunch and dinner.
Burns said most of the leakage problems were in the facade of the building where the old casement windows had to be reframed. She said the problems were not the fault of the contractor who remodeled the building but were due to changes that the hotel management did not want made but which were now necessary because of the age of the hotel.
While rooms are still available at the MacCallum House, the Inn’s restaurant and bar are closed until April 1.
The scene around the hotel and elsewhere in the little jewel box of a town is in sharp contrast to four months ago when a group calling itself SCAT (Sensible Citizens Against Tourism) protested the growing commercialization of Mendocino.
They compared it to the development that transformed Carmel in Monterey County and called upon their neighbors to discourage tourists from visiting Mendocino.
Drought conditions extended the tourist season in Mendocino but now the town is relatively quiet.
Instead of the traffic on Main Street and crowds of tourists gawking in shop windows, there is the whine of electric saws, the ringing of unanswered phones in shops closed for the season and the moaning of a foghorn off the headlands.
A young man on a skateboard sails down Main Street that is empty of traffic. Old acquaintances nod to one another on the empty sidewalks.
“Suppliers leave no deliveries until further notice—“well is out of water,” says a sign in a Main Street shop.
“It’s always slow in January,” says Alphonso at Handcrafts of Mendocino.
He said a few tourists visit Mendocino this time of year “except on a few oddball weekends, like Washington’s birthday.”
The January slow down seems to be far more apparent this year, however, by the fire that wiped out the Seagull, and the unexpected closing of the hotel.
While these conditions may give tourists the appearance that the town has closed down, there is still an abundance of coastal entertainment for the natives, if not in Mendocino, then in neighboring Caspar where there is music at the Caspar Inn—“The Down Home Country Saloon.”
Bulletin boards around Mendocino also show a wide assortment of activities, ranging from acupressure sessions to auditions for the Mikado, which will be staged at Crown Hall.
For many natives, these winter months in Mendocino are a welcome respite. It is the most enjoyable time of the year because it is the most peaceful.
It is their time to reclaim a town that in a few months will again be crowded with tourists seeking that Mother Lode of north woods culture.
The Mendocino Beacon, Thursday, April 21, 1977
Board, Sea Gull: behind each other ‘100 per cent’
The Sea Gull restaurant’s stop work order was lifted by the Mendocino Historical Review Board at a special meeting Monday night.
Owner David Jones said afterward: “I would like to emphasize that I really completely support the intent of the review board. I’m 100 percent behind it. I don’t feel the review board harmed me or caused the problem. I feel it was a misunderstanding on the part of everybody.
It began Friday when review board member Tim Aguilar informed the deputy attorney Jon Lehan, counsel to the board, of possible inconsistencies between the building under construction and the plan which the board approved.
Lehan directed the county building inspector to issue a stop work order, which was posted after working hours.
The building inspector enforces the provisions of the historical review ordinance.
Aguilar asked that a special meeting be called to look into possible violations.
His concerns were the height of the building, installation of a five-foot round window (working plans showed a four by six foot rectangular one) on the second floor balcony and changes in the ramp entrance.
Aguilar said he felt it would ‘not hinder your project to stop work over the weekend,” and wanted a special meeting as soon as possible, rather than waiting until the next regular meeting next Monday.
He denied any group of people “put him up to it.”
The crew went back to work Tuesday.
Jones’ designer David Clayton admitted the round window had not been approved, but insisted the height of the building was not greater than that approved on the working drawings.
The misunderstanding came from attempts to read the artist’s rendering, rather than working plans, he said.
“I didn’t feel it was necessary to file a change,” Clayton told the board. “There’s a lot of people in the community putting things into the building. Someone said a round window would look great.”
The east-side window is visible from only one section of town, Clayton said. He felt it was a minor change. So they went ahead and did it.
Board member Richard Lemos predicted that while the board might accept a round window, the cumulative impact of a number of small changes could greatly alter the appearance of the building.
The window needs the board’s approval, he said. Nevertheless, “the board has always been behind the Sea Gull 100 per cent.”
Jones agreed on the potential cumulative effect of several small changes, and said that except for the round window, he didn’t think they had made any other alterations to the plan.
Approval for the window was “overlooked, not intentionally,” Jones said.
The window and the ramp, along with the other proposed changes, are now on the review board’s agenda for action next Monday.
The building inspctor told the board the building is the same as shown on the working drawings.
The board’s vote to lift the stop work order was unanimous. Board member Del Schlafer was absent.
Jones said it was “unfortunate nobody came to me or David (Clayton) and talked to us, without having to stop work.” The questions could have been resolved, he said.
Board Chairman Donald Hahn, who was out of town last weekend, agreed “more communication might have saved a lot of trouble.”
“If this serves any good at all, it is to remind people in the community that this is an ordinance we live with,” he said.
Letter to the Editor, Mendocino Beacon
From David Jones
I wish to thank everyone who appeared at the Historical Review Board meeting last Monday night and particularly the Board members themselves.
I wish to emphatically state that I believe in the principles of the Historical Review Board and in the ordinance establishing the Board. Their job is difficult and often complicated, yet I feel they do that job well and with dignity.
The residents of this community and the Review Board which they have estqblished are two positive forces in insuring that Mendocino will always be a community in which we are proud to live.
I appreciate the concern and cooperation both have extended to me during the reconstruction of my business.