A Larkspur Landmark: The Hotel Merwin Building

Does this building look familiar? Over 135 years ago it was the Hotel Merwin. Located on the main county road between Sausalito and San Rafael, it’s just a stroll from the railroad station in Larkspur. With that clue, can you name its present occupant? It’s the popular Marin dining destination Left Bank Brasserie.

So why does a neon “Blue Rock Inn” sign still hang on the building? Here — thanks to the book Larkspur Past and Present — is the brief backstory: in 1887, the rickety building in the photo was named Hotel Merwin because E. L Merwin built it in 88 days for $20,000.

Then, in 1891, it was renamed Hotel Larkspur. For almost 20 years nothing much changed except the hotel’s owners — there were four of them, the last being William Stringa and Serafino Marilli, owners of a nearby saloon. At the time, the building needed a facelift, so most of the front was rebuilt using “blue rock,” a locally quarried stone that was popular to build walls and border gardens. Thus, the name became the Blue Rock Hotel (why the sign reads “Blue Rock Inn” no one seems to know).

The Stringa-Marilli era lasted until 1938; then, in 1942, a new owner added the massive stone fireplace that still dominates the dining room. More reconfiguring came in 1959 when owner Hugh Wood (no relation to this story’s author) added a third story with half a dozen tiny rooms; and in 1984, restaurateur Nino Marchisiello installed sturdy awnings for outdoor dining. In 2002, unfortunately (some say fortunately), a fire destroyed much of the third floor, which allowed an architect to recapture the building’s grandeur by creating a pitched roof with quaint dormer windows. And for the past 30 years Left Bank Brasserie has given the building its most stable existence in its 137 years of standing at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Ward Street in Larkspur.