Tom Butt
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  The Hotel Mac Rises Again
March 11, 2023

The venerable Hotel Mac restaurant, closed since the onset of COVID appears to be headed towards new life. According to the Richmond Standard, Richmond’s only remaining consistent news source, the historic Hotel Mac’s Restaurant and Bar in Point Richmond has been leased to the owners of the city’s Mi Casa Grill, according to Restaurant Realty Company (RRC).

Mi Casa Grill’s owners, Blanca Zepedalomeli and her husband, Juvenal Magna, plan to open Biancoverde (Italian for “green and white”) in the Hotel Mac space sometime in late 2023. RRC said that their concept is to offer a menu “that embraces their heritage with an Italian twist.” The restauranteurs intend to feature both “classic and unique options” in the bar, while also having entertainment in the lounge.

“They will bring their vision of elegance and charm that the space deserves, while maintaining the historic elements of existing architecture,” said RRC, which added that Andy Mirabell of the company handled the lease for both parties.

Aside from the Hotel Mac’s restaurant space, lounge and bar, it also has a wine cellar and banquet room and has long been “recognized for its exceptional dining and a vibrant cocktail bar,” said RRC. The company said the previous restaurant fell victim to the pandemic.

RRC referred to the Hotel Mac as an “anchor business” in the hamlet’s center that was originally built in 1911 and was then called the Colonial Hotel. The Claremont Hotel’s former manager, M.V. McAfee, bought it in the ‘30s and changed its name to the Hotel Mac.
The Hotel Mac Restaurant and Bar is located at 50 Washington Ave. in Point Richmond. Find out more hereMi Casa Grill is located on the corner of Macdonald and San Pablo Avenues in Richmond. Read the Standard’s past article here.

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 the late 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.

Figure 1 - Kate Riordan

The Colonial Hotel opened in September 1911, and Kate Riordan gave a banquet for 30 city officials to celebrate the occasion.

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.

Figure 2 - The original Hotel Mac dining room

The Colonial passed through two owners, E.D. Hanford and Harry and Lula Moore. In the late 1930s, it was bought by J.V. McAfee, former manager of the Claremont Hotel, who changed the name to “Hotel Mac.” McAfee made the Hotel Mac restaurant a popular destination, and it was listed by Duncan Hines as an exceptional eating place.

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 Tom and Shirley Butt hatched a plan to save it. “We attended the foreclosure sale on the courthouse steps,” recalls Tom Butt, “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. 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 spent 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 for decades. Many a political deal was consummated in the Hotel Mac, including the $90 million community benefits agreement (ECIA) connected with the City’s approval of the Chevron modernization project.

Figure 3 - 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.

In 2011, Bill Burnett and Griff Brazil decided to put the restaurant on the market, and in 2012, it was bought by Lara Choe, who operated it with few changes until 2020 when COVID hit. Lara had also bought the former Salute restaurant at Marina Bay, which she continues to operate as Lara’s Fine Dining, and the challenges of COVID were too much for two restaurants. Lara let her lease of the Hotel Mac lapse, and the building went vacant.

After 45 years of mostly successful operation in its second reincarnation, including hosting some of the biggest political deals and plots in Richmond history, the Hotel Mac restaurant will now be passed on to yet a new owner, perhaps number seven or eight in a line that stretches back over 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.