September 1, 1941 – Mendocino lost one of its landmarks when the Occidental Hotel, located at the junction of Lansing and Main Streets, burned down. The fire was caused by a defective flue which ignited a wall in the early morning hours. The owner of the hotel, Kate Gorman, immediately called out to her grandson Cletus Byrnes and began waking her guests. It was Labor Day weekend, and every room in the hotel was full.

A building on fire, with the building frame exposed and billowing smoke

Fire at the Occidental Hotel, 1941. (Kelley House Collection, Kelley House Photographs)

When Cletus couldn’t put out the flames on his own, he ran to the fire house just north on Lansing Street to get the chemical fire engine. Meanwhile, the nighttime telephone operator called Charley Tyrell, who joined Cletus at the fire house to help with the chemical engine and sound the fire alarm. In the few minutes it took to get the engine to the hotel, the attic had begun burning fiercely. By this time, all guests had been evacuated, and volunteers began rescuing furniture from the first floor.

When it became clear that the hotel couldn’t be saved, men with buckets worked to protect the roof of the old Kelley store building on the northwest corner of Lansing and Main Streets. That building was threatened by heat from the fire raging diagonally across the intersection and wind blowing hot embers onto the roof. The Fort Bragg Fire Department sent a water pumper, and the Kelley building was saved with water from the hydrants at the Masonic Hall.

The Occidental Hotel was never rebuilt.

In the Kelley House Store – 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.