Marin history: The days of grand hotel living in West Marin’s Tocaloma
February 4, 2021
Source: Marin Independent Journal
Just before Sir Francis Drake Boulevard climbs over the steep hill to Olema, Lagunitas Creek makes a sharp turn north to wind its way around the Olema Grade to Point Reyes and Tomales Bay. It was at that location in the 1870s that the small hamlet of Tocaloma began to grow.
Swiss immigrant Giuseppe Codoni had purchased more than 600 acres in the area from Giovanni Giacomini and expanded the dairy operations there. When the North Pacific Coast Railroad began operations in the mid-1870s, Tocaloma became a station stop along the line. It was conveniently situated at the junction of the San Rafael to Olema Stagecoach Road and the railroad line running between Sausalito and the timber lands and dairies of Marin and Sonoma.
In 1879, John Lycurgus built the first hotel on the site across Lagunitas Creek from Codoni’s ranch. The hotel catered to hunters, fishermen, hikers and campers who wanted to escape the city and its often fog-shrouded neighborhoods. Lycurgus sold the hotel to another proprietor in 1882, who subsequently lost it in an 1885 fire: an event that would be a reoccurring theme for the Tocaloma Hotel.
In 1889, French-born hotel keeper John Bertrand constructed a much grander hotel, pictured, that had more than 40 rooms, a dance hall, billiard room, banquet room, croquet grounds, tent cabins and outdoor swings and hiking paths that invited guests to enjoy the surrounding environs. By the 1890s, Bertrand’s Hotel, as it came to be known, was a popular resort for travelers on the rail and stage lines and as a destination for vacationers, sportsmen, bicyclists and campers. Trains ran two or three times a day and travelers could reach Tocaloma from San Francisco in little more than two hours via the rail and ferry service from Sausalito.
By the mid-1890s Bertrand had also purchased the Azalea Hotel at nearby Camp Taylor, another popular resort. Advertisements for the resorts touted the fine cuisine, sunny climate and fantastic fishing and hunting opportunities in and around Tocaloma. A 1902 article recounted how Leon Jessu caught 172 trout on the opening day of the fishing season between Camp Taylor and Tocaloma. The hotel was also a favorite stop for the many bicycling clubs of the era including the Bay City Wheelman, Pacific Cycling Club and the Camera Club Cyclists.
The hotel was bought by noted San Francisco restaurateur Caesar Ronchi in early 1913 who continued providing fine dining and luxurious accommodations to his guests. Within a few years, the Tocaloma Hotel also catered to early motorists traveling the improved roadway and rebuilt bridges between Fairfax and Olema. Tragedy struck the hotel once again in the winter of 1916 when it was destroyed by fire that started in a defective kitchen flue. Just a few months before, the long-standing Azalea Hotel had also succumbed to flames at Camp Taylor.
Ronchi built a much smaller tavern the following year that was a popular roadhouse throughout the 1920s and 1930s, providing, by some accounts, bootlegged liquor to patrons during Prohibition, but the days of grand hotel living in Tocaloma had passed into history.
History Watch is written by Scott Fletcher, a volunteer at the Marin History Museum, marinhistory.org. Images included in History Watch are available for purchase by calling 415-382-1182 or by email at email@example.com