Amid considerable confusion caused by the fire, the manager of the Peninsula Hotel, E. G. Borden, suddenly ordered the San Mateo police to get everyone off of the grounds surrounding the hotel.
"They're looting the hotel's property,” he shouted.
The fire had started at 5:15 p.m. June 25, 1920, as he and his associates were talking to news people at the city's newspaper, the News Leader. Borden was enthusiastic about his plans for the newly reopened hotel. The automobile had changed the tranquil scene and altered the pace of life on the Peninsula. Parking for the new fad of "touring” had already become a problem for the older established hotels on the Peninsula, and Borden's plan was to build parking spaces for 100 automobiles.
The four-letter word "FIRE” changed all of his plans. Now he was in a fight to save the former mansion of Alvinza Hayward. It was a huge, wooden, multi-story structure that had become a landmark on the Peninsula since its construction in 1886 by a multi-millionaire gold-mining citizen, Alvinza Hayward. (The grounds of the house sit in what is known as the Glazenwood residential area of San Mateo today). The stick-style mansion with its gabled roof tower was impressive and out of character for the stern, dour, sometimes vulgar, 60ish landowner who had lived in the mansion with his wife and only surviving daughter Emma. On the estate, he had huge stable and race track built to run his magnificent horses. He fenced in deer and elk for his enjoyment and he had a lake created with plenty of ducks and swans. Of course he had servants for tending to the cooking, housekeeping and keeping the acres of gardens, hedges and grounds in immaculate shape, but he was still a man from a laboring background. His wife Charity never did quite adjust to being rich and practiced thrift almost to the extreme.
After Hayward died in 1904, the mansion and 15 acres of its beautiful ground were sold to a local group for $125,000. More than $300,000 were poured into remodeling and renovation so that 300 people could be accommodated in its 122 rooms. The hotel opened Feb. 22, 1908 amid much excitement, pomp and ceremony. Great times were promised by the hotel management. There would be beautiful drives to the Crystal Springs Dam where there is no better view in the world. The bowling alley, card rooms, billiard tables and tasteful surroundings were geared to attracting rich patrons from San Francisco. However, it failed to pay for itself and it was closed, only to be reopened in 1917 under new management. This adventure failed also and a third try at success happened with the opening in April 1920.
That had been only two months ago. Now the fires were raging and the dream of Manager Borden and his investors was going up in flames. The San Mateo Fire Department had responded quickly when the fire was reported, but inadequate, low water pressure had quelled any meaningful water stream that might have helped put out the fire. The fire chief had been out of town so Fire Commissioner Mrs. Elsa S. McGinn organized the firefighters. But they were not effective enough, and the fire departments of Burlingame, Hillsborough and Redwood City were called upon to help. The fire continued throughout the night.
The next day, after taking inventory of the things saved from the fire, it was found that much of the furniture and guests' belongings Borden thought were being looted by opportunists had only been misplaced. Much furniture had been saved by the 2,000 to 3,000 onlookers of the fire the night before, and these were auctioned off at a sale. However, the $500,000 loss of the mansion itself was not covered by insurance and the hotel was never rebuilt.
Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.