MODESTO — A Modesto building that once housed one of the nation's top restaurants has a date with the wrecking ball.
The mustard-colored building with the distinctive turret at 1539 Yosemite Blvd. is the former home of Cote d'Oro. The restaurant was a favorite spot for E.&J. Gallo Winery executives, including the winery's founders, brothers Ernest and Julio.
The restaurant was just a few blocks from the winery.
Holiday Magazine named Cote d'Oro one of the top 100 U.S. restaurants in 1980, according to Bee archives. And in 1981, the California Automobile Association's magazine named it a major California restaurant.
"You could have a very fine lunch and a very fine dinner," said Modestan Bill Moorad, a retired Gallo corporate purchasing director. "It had excellent food and excellent service. A lot of Gallo people went there. Ernest and Julio would go there for lunch."
Modesto native Tony Savage, 60, remembers his parents taking him there.
"It was the big-shot place," he said. "When our parents took us there, that's when we knew that we were tripping the light fantastic. It was really Modesto's first premier restaurant."
Cote d'Oro operated from 1964 until 1987. During its heyday, it was one of the few restaurants in Modesto where diners could enjoy an upscale, elegant meal. After Cote d'Oro closed, the building was home to a Mexican restaurant, which also has closed.
The 88-year-old building has a colorful past.
Some say it was a hideout during Prohibition for customers at the neighboring Tower Club, then a speakeasy, now the Eagles Hall. When Prohibition agents showed up at the Tower Club, customers escaped through a tunnel that led to the restaurant's basement.
The site's next incarnation will be as a Dollar General store, which calls itself the nation's largest small-box discount retailer with 10,000 stores in 40 states.
For Savage, that's another sad example of Modesto turning its back on its history and razing its older, distinctive buildings.
Construction for the Dollar General store, including demolition of the former restaurant, is expected to start in two to three months, said Bryan Barry with Embree Asset Group, the discount retailer's developer. Barry said construction should take five months, and the retailer should open over the summer.
Bee Senior Information and Research Specialist Karen Aiello contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.