Columbia loses historic restaurant building

jholland@modbee.comDecember 31, 2012 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
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— A fire believed to be arson destroyed a restaurant building in Columbia State Historic Park that was nearly a century old.

The blaze, reported at 6:25 p.m. Sunday, gutted the Columbia House restaurant but spared the adjacent Angelo's Hall banquet space.

Tuolumne County sheriff's deputies arrested Daenon Vincent Brewer, 21, of Tuolumne City on suspicion of arson and other offenses.

Witnesses said Brewer forced his way through the front door of the restaurant, which was closed at the time, and set a Christmas tree on fire, the Sheriff's Department reported.

The one-story wooden building was erected in 1920 as a replica of a previous structure that burned, said Floyd Oydegaard, who operates Columbia Booksellers & Stationers across Main Street.

"It's sad," said Oydegaard, who has compiled historical information about Columbia buildings. "We don't like losing a building that has been here more than 90 years."

Steve and Doreen Kwasnicki, who operated the Columbia House on a contract with the state, could not be reached Monday. Nor could the park management.

The state established the park in 1945 to commemorate the Gold Rush. Columbia, founded in 1850, was one of the leading centers of mining and related business in the central Mother Lode.

The park's 160 buildings are the largest state-owned collection of Gold Rush structures.

The building lost Sunday housed the State Park Cafe in the 1950s, according to Oydegaard. The name changed to Columbia House in 1970, to Jenny Lind Restaurant in 2008 and to Bart's Black Skillet in 2010.

The Kwasnickis took over the concession in 2012 and changed the name back to Columbia House.

They also run the park's Pioneer Emporium and Jack Douglass Saloon. The latter became the site of New Year's Eve festivities that had been planned for Columbia House.

Oydegaard said concessionaires are required to have insurance that pays for rebuilding of burned structures.

Firefighters from several agencies were at the scene until about 10 p.m. Sunday, said Capt. Bryan Delgado of the Columbia Fire Protection District.

"The whole front of the building and the dining room are a 100 percent loss," he said.

No injuries were reported.

A sheriff's news release said Brewer "appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and controlled substances" when deputies responded to a report of a disturbance in the park.

He was arrested on suspicion of arson, burglary, violation of probation, public drunkenness and marijuana possession.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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