From famous chefs to smorgasbords at the Hotel Petaluma

Historic Eats: The delicious past of this storied hotel|

When the Hotel Petaluma opened its doors to city residents for the first time on April 10, 1924, the Petaluma Argus released a special edition of the newspaper, dedicated solely to this new community wonder (pictured below). For without the support of citizens, the hotel would never have been built.

In the early 1920s, as Petaluma’s position as a powerhouse of agricultural industry continued to grow, the city was inundated with guests, both on business and pleasure. With limited lodging options, the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce saw an opportunity. The board convinced 850 residents to help raise the funds needed to build a lavish hotel to support the rising wave of tourists, but also to provide residents with a place to have a nice dinner out or host a banquet and also serve as a hub for society groups and service clubs. Of the $325,000 needed to construct the five-story building, $250,000 was raised by these neighborhood stockholders.

Henry Barker, who also managed the Key Route Inn in Oakland, was hired to oversee operations. He hired on H.H. Kirschner, “who is recognized as one of the finest chefs on the coast,” according to a 1924 Argus article. “Mr. Barker declares Petaluma is to be congratulated on having been supplied with such an artist and he predicts that the Hotel Petaluma dinners and banquets will become not only decidedly popular but will aid in making the hotel and the city famous, and that people will drive for miles to enjoy some of the fine meals here.”

It must not have gone well, because just a month later Kirschner moved back to San Francisco, although he did continue to create menus for banquets and other special events at the Hotel Petaluma up until his death in 1931.

By 1952, the hotel had a new management team in Elbert Stannard and Joseph Lawrence, whose first order of business was to change up the restaurant’s menu. In the 1950s, extravagant eating came back in popularity after years of wartime scarcities. The hotel capitalized on this trend by offering a smorgasbord every day for lunch and dinner. For $1.50, diners could peruse more than 50 edible options, including four hot dishes. Under the direction of chef Bartola Letinich, the hotel spent between $4,500 and $5,000 a month purchasing meat, dairy and produce from local food purveyors and farmers. That’s equivalent to $41,000 to $46,000 in today’s dollars.

Pictured at left, workers decorate with giant candy canes outside the Hotel Petaluma in 1945.

Today, the newly restored hotel is continuing its food legacy with The Shuckery. The seafood-driven restaurant even allows you to sip your happy hour drinks in front of the hotel’s historic fireplace.

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