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Sunday, December 26, 2004

They dined royally at Vacaville hotel

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

Town’s elite partook in 11-course meal in 1901

In the past as now, Vacaville society enjoyed a good party. Around the turn of the last century, opportunities and public locations were much more limited than they are today. Residents’ wish lists mainly included a nice downtown hotel and restaurant.

One such establishment had been built on Main Street in 1884 by E. P. Williams. Called the Western Hotel, it changed owners in 1888 to become the Brunswick Hotel. It continued to change names and owners, finally to become the Vaca Valley Hotel.

By the turn of the century, the block on which the hotel sat had become part of the landholdings of Ralph Barcar, a prominent citizen.

Barcar had arrived in Vacaville in 1883, first as a teacher at the town’s college. An ambitious man, he ran as a candidate for district attorney on the Democratic platform in 1884. That same year, he purchased The Reporter from its founder, James D. McClain.  Although Barcar lost his race, he continued to run for various political offices during the next few years. His newspaper enterprise also went through ups and downs, until he sold The Reporter to Charles L. Andrews of Oakland, who in turn hired Raleigh Barcar as his editor.

By the turn of the century, Barcar had also developed into a shrewd real estate investor. He purchased the Vaca Valley Hotel in 1901 with the intent to open a first-class establishment. The two-story frame building had tiny guest rooms and no indoor plumbing, features that remained despite an elaborate remodel Barcar undertook.

The main attraction of the then-Hotel Raleigh was its dining room. Barcar tried to hire well-known chefs to bring San Francisco-style culinary delights to Vacaville.  The Reporter described the grand opening of Hotel Raleigh on Oct. 3, 1901, in a detailed column.

“Grand Banquet Fittingly Marks the Occasion Thursday Eve,” was the opening statement. “Over a Hundred Guests Participate in a Swell Function - Toast and Responses - Chef Herschman Congratulated.”

“The opening of the Hotel Raleigh which took place Thursday evening, October 3rd, was made the occasion of a banquet, reflecting credit on the people of the town and the hotel management. Certainly the beginning of an era of good hotel accommodation was worthy of commemoration, and it is equally certain that the people were worthy of the occasion. It was one of the best attended functions ever given in Vacaville and in the completeness of arrangement and quality of entertainment, was about top in the history of the town.

“The evening began at half past eight with the arrival of the guests. Professor Ryhiner’s orchestra, which had been playing musical selections in the parlor, welcomed the visitors to the dining room with its choicest strains.”  While the dining room was considered a large room, 109 attending guests taxed the capacity of the room to its limits.

Barcar had hired Chef Herschman who prepared an elaborate, 11-course dinner that took more than three hours to enjoy. The menu included oysters on half Shell; green turtle soup; filet of sole tartar sauce with Parisian potatoes; crab salad au mayonnaise, accompanied by celery and olives; fricandeau of veal larded and mushroom sauce; oysters a la Bochamel; punch romaine; roast chicken; and green peas. Desserts included vanilla ice cream; ladyfingers; jelly diamonds; macaroons; bananas and oranges; and coffee.

“All of the guests were very complimentary to Chef Herschman and his staff,” said The Reporter, “who gave them a menu comprising eleven courses cooked in the most advance style, in fact the equal of the best work done in the high grade hotels of San Francisco.”

The Reporter also listed the most prominent of the attending guests, a veritable who’s who in Vacaville at the time. Typically, only the men’s names were listed, followed invariably by “and wife.”  Among those attending were Dr. C. C. Curtis, George Akerly, F. B.

McKevitt, J. Blum, Isa Blum, W. M. Goodwin, T. J. Mize, R. L. Reid, E. C. Crystal, J. M. Miller, J. N. Rogers, A. M. Stevenson, W. H. Buck, H. D. Chandler, Joseph Stadtfeld, W. P. Cantelow, V. W. Hartley, Meyer Blum, F. B. McKevitt Jr., C. M. Hartley, and Rev. M. Putnam.

“When the black coffee and cigars were brought on, D. C. C. Curtis who acted as Chairman, and whose duties hitherto only involved the expression of a general welcome and the introduction of the Reverend M. Putnam, who asked a blessing, introduced Edward Fisher as the Toastmaster of the evening.”

Toasts played an important part in festivities such as this opening banquet. “Toastmaster Fisher felicitously expressed his pleasure at the opportunity given him to officiate on an occasion of character, and complimented the citizens of Vacaville on the growth and improvement in Vacaville, and particularly the event signified by the opening of the Hotel Raleigh. He introduced T. J. Mize, Esq., who responded to the toast ‘Vacaville in the Past.’ Mr. Mize gave an interesting account of conditions as they were known to him when he first came to Vacaville, permitting everyone present to contrast the situation as it is recognized to be today (i.e. 1901). It was a struggling hamlet of ragged appearance that raised a little fruit and vegetables for the San Francisco market, and talked of over production. With the product of this section (the fruit industry) increased many thousand fold, there was still opportunities for expansion.”

The first toast was followed by several musical renditions. Thomas Smith delighted the guests by singing “In Dreams,” followed by a second selection after much insistent applause.  A second toast came next. “R. F. Rammers responded gracefully to the toast, ‘The Ladies,’ and said the kind of things men like to say of the gentler sex, and which the ladies like to hear, because they rightfully recognize that it is their due.”

The second vocal number was omitted due to the illness of one of the singers. Instead, “Raleigh Barcar was called upon to speak in their place and having no subject assigned, spoke a few words regarding Vacaville’s claims to recognition as an enterprising and go-ahead community.

He compared it with other localities similarly situated, and expressed himself that it was one of the most towns in California by reason of charms of climate, business success, the active enterprise of its citizens and the possession of claims entitling it to the recognition from those who desired homes where every advantage was offered, and where every indication promised and increased growth commensurate with the united endeavors of the people of the town, who had common interest demanding united action.”

Barcar’s speech was followed by F. B. McKevitt, who reflected on the present and the future of Vacaville. A resident for more than two decades, he had seen the town in its infancy, and its orchard industry in its beginning. “He recognized that in the work already accomplished much had been gained and made a stirring appeal for union of every interest on lines of progress and improvement. Mr. McKevitt is an easy and graceful speaker, and we regret that to him and his associates, we can only give a brief mention.”

“Taking the banquet in the altogether,” The Reporter summed up, “we think it was a pleasing success. Its purpose was to give the people of the town an opportunity to learn the fact that the town has, what has long been recognized to be its great want, a good hotel. It was more than that, however, we think, because we believe every participant had a good time and gave utterance to a sincere expression of good will to the Hotel Raleigh, and a feeling of satisfaction at participation in one of the most enjoyable events in Vacaville social history.”

Barcar’s ambitious plans for the Hotel Raleigh continued. In 1906, he hired the famed Frank Pierpont as chef, who counted being the gourmet cook for British Royalty among his achievements. Unfortunately, he died the following year. Raleigh Barcar died in 1908, at age 53.

The following year, 1909, the Hotel Raleigh burned to the ground, ending this Vacaville venture into high-end dining.