The historic Columbia House Restaurant is still undergoing renovations as the first anniversary of its near-total destruction in an arson fire arrives.
The restaurant in Columbia State Historic Park was torched by a disgruntled customer who broke into the building and lit a Christmas tree on fire on Dec. 30, 2012.
Daenon Vincent Brewer, 22, was sentenced July 23 to seven years in prison
after admitting to starting the blaze. Brewer suffered mental illness after being hit by a car in 2010, according to his mother, who said she had trouble getting him proper treatment. His mental illness was said to be considered in his sentence by Judge James Boscoe.
“Everything inside was a total loss,” said restaurant concessionaire Steve Kwasnicki, who had run the business only since June 2012.
Kwasnicki said he felt bad for the arsonist and that he had requested Brewer go somewhere that could actually help him.
Kwasnicki remained positive about the recovery effort last week, speaking amid support beams shoring up the ceiling and walls. The reinforcements will enable the contractor to avoid tearing down and replacing the front 15 feet of the building — where the fire started — as originally proposed.
“When we’re done, the building will be better than it ever was,” he said. “And if you were to walk in, you wouldn’t know the difference.”
He gave credit to Bob Reagan, of Bob Reagan Construction, who specializes in restoring old buildings and has a knack for support beams.
Kwasnicki said it’s tricky restoring an historical building while coming up to code on regulations requiring handicapped accessibility. For instance, the building will have to have one electronically-opening door now.
As far as the historical aspect, he said they don’t have to go as far as using square nails, but an historic group working through the California Department of Parks and Recreation has input on the design.
“The idea is that what we’re doing here has some historical significance for this building,” Kwasnicki said.
The state actually owns the buildings and land in the park and can dictate what’s done to them, but concessionaires who own and operate the businesses are responsible for maintaining and restoring them, said Kwasnicki.
His insurance is paying for the remodel, which has cost a little more than $1 million so far, but shouldn’t cost much more beyond that, he said.
He put up $75,000 from his company, but expects to be reimbursed by insurance.
Kwasnicki is president of Sycamore Concessions, which is a business of about 50 people, and also runs the Jack Douglass Saloon and Pioneer Emporium within the park.
He said the company likes to remain behind the curtain and that the idea is for the businesses to run independently and authentically, with all local employees.
That doesn’t mean his leadership is without vision.
Three weeks ago, Footlight Theatre Company had its debut performance in the back of the building, which is Angelo’s Hall — technically a separate business with a separate history.
The hall was spared due to an extra-thick separating wall, which Kwasnicki had criticized before the fire.
Footlight Theatre Company is expected to continue in the location, including dinner theaters with food from the restaurant when it opens.
The Columbia House Restaurant is expected to be back in business on April 1.