Wed 27 Dec 2006
Hot spots at the rear of Manka’s restaurant continued to flare up for hours after the fire had been contained.
Winds that gusted to hurricane force toppled a tree onto Manka’s Inverness Lodge and Restaurant early Wednesday, breaking a gas line and starting a fire that gutted the 81-year-old wooden building.
Trapped. A guest who escaped unharmed with his possessions nonetheless found his car stuck for hours in Manka’s parking lot, hemmed in by Inverness and Marin County firetrucks.
The tree fell onto Guest Room 7 and went through it into Room 4 where it hit a hotwater heater and broke the gas line. All of those in the building escaped unharmed, including overnight guest Jake Gyllenhaal, who starred in the movie Brokeback Mountain, and his actress sister Maggie.
Daniel DeLong, chef and co-owner with his partner, Margaret Grade, later told The Independent Journal, “Jake was helping me pull things out of the fire.”
Inverness and county firefighters were called out at 2:43 a.m., and by the time the first firetrucks arrived, “it was going pretty good,” one Inverness fireman told me, so there was little that could be done except keep the fire from spreading. Firefighters did manage to save the original building on the property, a 106-year-old cottage.
Referring to the inn itself, the fireman remarked, “When it’s all wood, it isn’t easy to get inside and get [the fire] out.” This is a particular problem with historic buildings, he said, adding with a grimace, “It sucks.”
Heavy rain and Arctic wind (which gusted to 100 mph atop Mount Tamalpais, county firefighters were told) not only sent the tree crashing onto Manka’s, it did less-severe damage throughout West Marin. Falling trees blacked out much of West Marin most of the night.
A tree that fell on a utility pole along the levee road in Point Reyes Station forced closure of the road for much of Wednesday.
Sections of Highway 1 between Point Reyes Station and Olema were flooded during the night.
Manka’s under its former owners, the Prokupeks, was known for decades as a Czech restaurant. Current owner Margaret Grade bought Manka’s in 1992, refurbished the building, and developed a cuisine around wild game, locally grown organic meat and produce, seafood and elegant desserts.
In recent years, Food and Wine magazine repeatedly rated Manka’s as among the top 50 hotel restaurants in America while The San Francisco Chronicle called it one of the top 100 restaurants in the nine-county Bay Area.
When Prince Charles and Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall, visited West Marin a year ago, they stayed in Manka’s. Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey later told The Independent Journal the prince told him they “had a good night’s sleep” and found Manka’s fare “really outstanding.”
Manka’s owner Margaret Grade (center) herself was one of the chefs, and several of those who worked with her were in tears Wednesday morning. However, when Margaret spotted me taking photos, she might just as easily have been the congenial hostess welcoming guests at the door.
“Good to see you, Dave,” she called to me. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“It’s good to see you too,” I responded, “but not under these circumstances.”
Only the front wall of Manka’s restaurant remained mostly standing. Sky can be seen through the windows of a guest room whose roof was consumed.
Despite the circumstances, however, Margaret remained the upbeat person I’d always known her to be, and before the fire was out, she had begun talking about rebuilding. Responding in kind, I asked her if she already had a contractor in mind.
Alluding to restaurant designer Pat Kuletto, who is restoring Nick’s Cove restaurant in Marshall after numerous permit hassles, Margaret joked, “I hope Kuletto has paved the way for us at the county.”
Then recalling how much work Manka’s needed when she bought the restaurant and inn in 1992, Margaret said to me with a laugh, “Look at what a disaster the place was. This takes us to a different level.”