As the tallest building in Del Norte County, the 5-story Surf Hotel towers at corner of Front and H Streets across from Beachfront Park. Although the foyer suffered extensive damage from the tsunami of 1964, the Surf was one of the few buildings in downtown Crescent City to structurally survive.
But it remained empty until mid-1988.
As a kid, I used to daydream of owning the Surf. I thought it a fairly romantic building, full of history and adventure.
When I was in my very early 20’s I used to sneak into the hotel, usually with a six-pack of beer and head straight for the roof. From there I could look out over the mostly sleeping town.
That all came to an end when someone introduced guard-dogs to patrol the building, keeping trespassers like me outside. I used to listen those dogs howl all night long while working at KPOD as it was located only a few hundred feet from the hotel.
It was a terrible, lonely sound, seeming a perfect fit for the abandoned building.
Former owner, Walt Miller had planned to create condominiums in the building, along with a lounge and restaurant. He later decided private development was not a good idea — so he opted towards governmental development.
With Pelican Bay State Prison under construction, space needs at the courthouse were changing. It was believed the Surf Hotel could accommodate a number of county offices.
Some people opposed taking the building off the tax rolls while others said parking would be a problem. One thing everyone could agree on was that the hotel had to be renovated.
In its hay-day the Surf was the most elegant stop between Portland and San Francisco, playing host to movie stars like Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, and William Boyd, better known as Hop-Along Cassidy.
Even film star Lloyd Bridges along with his father, were co-owners of the hotel at one time.
Construction on the building was completed January 7, 1854. Known as the Crescent City Hotel, M.G. Tucker was the owner until August 19, 1857, when Gottlieb Myer took control.
Francis Burtschell bought the hotel from Myer the same year, when Myer decided to go to Jacksonville, Oregon. Burtschell then leased it to Jacob Richert.
The Richert family eventually moved to Arcata in 1870, leasing the Union Hotel. When they moved, Burtschell took the hotel again.
Burtschell built new addition to the front side of the hotel. Once completed, the name changed to Bay Hotel.
W.H. Woodbury purchased the hotel in 1894, but he died a year later. His wife continued to manage the business until she sold the hotel to Oscar Lauff in 1926.
Lauff, using money he’d made selling stock, that same year had the rear of the hotel torn down. In its place would rise the Lauff Hotel.
In 1943, the Lauff was sold to Clifton Richmond who then sold to Sam Wilson. In 1946, Wilson sold the hotel to the Surrey brothers from Montana — friends with one time guest Hop-a-Long Cassidy.
The Surrey’s owned and operated the hotel until the 1964 tsunami. They shuttered the building after it was discovered a large crack in the foundation had been caused by the earthquake that preceded the tidal wave.
As of 2011, records from the California Secretary of State office shows the registered agent of the Surf to be James McCoy, having filed April 24th, 1987. At present the former hotel serves as affordable housing with 55 units for low-income, elderly, and disabled residents.