Fire at Fred Riley’s Saloon

Parade car decorated with flowers passing the Red House on Ukiah Street in Mendocino, California, c. 1920. This building was a Kelley family rental and came to be known as the “Red House” since it was painted that color for many years. (Kelley House Collection, Kelley House Photographs)

January 5, 1885 – The bell in the cupola of the old school house, located near the northeast corner of Ukiah and Lansing Streets, rang out with an unexpected peal. Since the schools were closed for winter break, the community immediately knew the bell was ringing due to a fire somewhere in town.

No fire department had yet been formed, but soon there were men running towards the third building west of the Masonic Hall. This structure was occupied by Fred Riley as a saloon. Smoke was coming from the roof, and a fire was burning close to the stove pipe on the north end of the building. A hole was cut through the roof, and the small fire inside was quickly extinguished.

The saloon building was constructed before 1883, as it appears on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of that year. In 1887, William Kelley purchased this property and converted the saloon building into a residential rental.

The Volunteers: History of the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department by Walt McKeown and Linda Wilson – Recounts the great fires since 1870, countless heroic rescues and the camaraderie and struggles involved in keeping an all volunteer force intact from 1887 to the present day. $15.