IT STARTED HUNDREDS of years ago as a coastal Miwok fishing spot and burial ground. Then, in the late 1880s, the North Pacific Coast Railroad built a station nearby and, for unknown reasons, named it Manzanita. Some dispute the date, but many agree that in 1916, shortly after Shoreline Highway was first paved, a cigar dealer named Thomas Moore acquired the key Tam Junction property, built a distinctive two-story, two-arch edifice and, hoping to capitalize on the nearby train station, named his structure Manzanita Villa. Many say it was a tavern and dance hall, and in fact, by 1923, with Prohibition in full swing, Moore made his intentions ever so clear by changing the name to Manzanita Roadhouse. It quickly became known as a “blind pig,” Prohibition-speak for speakeasy. Moore’s roadhouse lasted until 1936, when he vacated the premises; in 1941 it reopened as Emil Plasberg’s Top Rail Tavern, which operated through World War II, when Paul and Ora Smith bought the place, surrounded it with motel units and, possibly in a nod to the on-site massive stone fireplace, called it the Fireside Motel. As noted in the above postcard, it was a “Class A motel.” Although Janis Joplin, Clint Eastwood and the stripper Carol Doda were reportedly among its patrons, the motel/restaurant/bar ceased to exist in 1997, and in the late-aughts, the motel units were demolished. Yet the white stucco building still stands — it’s the administrative office and social center for the 50 units of low-income and senior affordable housing that now surround it.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: Looking Back: Fireside Chats.