The restaurant at Pete's Harbor, as much a staple of the Redwood City marina as the live-aboard tenants, will soon close after nearly 40 years of serving meals, hosting celebrations and giving many in the community their first job.
The Waterfront Restaurant, formerly known as the Harbor House, will reportedly close Sunday, Dec. 23. The restaurant is closed for business Monday and owners Pepe and Dunia Rodriguez could not be reached to confirm the actual closure date. However, the restaurant is serving out its last days regardless as part of the overall plan by Pete's Harbor owner Paula Uccelli to sell the land for development into waterfront residences. A majority of the boat tenants have already left and any remaining will be evicted in January. Opponents of the development plan are appealing the Planning Commission's permit approval but, regardless of the Jan. 28 decision by the City Council, the evictions and the restaurant closure will stand.
The restaurant has operated under its current name since April 2002 when the Rodriguezes bought it from Pete and Paula Uccelli. But the restaurant itself dates back nearly 40 years. Pete Uccelli opened the 21-acre privately owned harbor on former swamp land in 1958 and decided he needed a place for his tenants and visitors to eat. He first opened a tiny dockside hamburger stand followed in 1973 with the Harbor House Restaurant.
Uccelli and several workmen built the restaurant themselves, a true "labor of love,” Paula Uccelli said.
Without as many restaurants in downtown Redwood City as now, the Harbor House became a destination point and hangout for the community, she said.
Big companies like Hewlett-Packard threw parties. Service clubs met. A lot of engagements and receptions were held. One actual wedding was even held on the deck.
The restaurant had theme nights — Sundays were Mexican Night, Uccelli remembered — and multiple generations held jobs. At its peak, the restaurant had 102 employees and its alumni include many in the community, such as former mayor Dani Gasparini.
"It was a real family affair,” Uccelli said. "And it was a lot of fun.”
Uccelli herself served worked in the office but filled in as a waitress when needed. Her husband was also a jack-of-all-trades as necessary, serving as busboy or host.
But the restaurant business is from sunrise to sunset and Uccelli said after a long run Pete wanted to do other things which is what led to its sale.
Uccelli, 84, died in September 2005, leaving the land to Paula. Her effort to make good on what she and others say was his long dream to develop the area is what has now pitted the tenants against her and Redwood City officials. The Planning Commission on Oct. 30 granted a planned development permit and parking exception for the proposal by developer Pauls Corporation to build 411 multi-family housing units in buildings between three and five stories, a community pool and approximately 263 slips in a private marina. All existing commercial operations at the marina will cease and any future boat mooring limited to apartment tenants.
Opponents of the idea argue the plan is moving too fast without public input, does away with precious affordable housing and eliminates a historical and cultural resource of Redwood City. The groups more recently have said Uccelli owes the state 28 years of back rent and the area should be included in the Inner Harbor Precise Plan. Uccelli attorney, Ted Hannig, said the state never accepted her money which was then placed into a bank account. They are now trying to resolve the state's request for interest and penalties with the California State Lands Commission.
But while Uccelli looks to settling the present situation and seeing through her husband's plan for the future of his harbor, she certainly has fond memories of the past including the iconic restaurant.
"If the walls could talk,” she said.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.