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Early morning blaze burns old Sonoma Valley resort

  • Lead investigator with Sonoma Valley Fire Greg Johnson, center, points out the devastating damage to Paul's Resort on Thursday, March 7, 2013. The the century old Sonoma structure caught fire early Thursday. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

A bit of Sonoma Valley history was laid to waste Thursday by a furious fire in El Verano that left the century-old structure known as Paul's Resort in ashes.

Soaked and charred timbers, areas of blackened roofing and portions of redwood siding were all that remained by dawn atop the foundation of the 10,000-square-foot building across Verano Avenue from Maxwell Farms Regional Park.

A gaping hole opened to the sky above the dance area where generations of Sonoma Valley residents and out-of-towners kicked up their heels on Saturday nights in days gone by.

Old El Verano Resort Fire

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"It's like losing a family member," said Yvonne Marcucci-Thibault, who grew up on the property once owned by her father, Paul Marcucci Jr., and ran the poolside snack bar as a teen-ager.

"Part of our history is gone," said lifelong Sonoma Valley resident Laurie Udby, who resides in one of several tiny houses on the property. "That was part of the town a long time."

The resort was built in 1908 at the El Verano rail station 20 years after the Santa Rosa-Carquinez Railroad opened the way for visitors from San Francisco and elsewhere, drawn by local summer resorts, the geothermal hot springs that gave neighboring towns their names and, eventually, a proliferation of speakeasies in the area, according to local historians.

The place was owned and operated through Prohibition and the Depression by Paul Vannucchi, then sold during the war to Paul Marcucci, who, by coincidence, was able to run the business under the same name.

Marcucci and his wife, Eve, expanded the resort, adding a swimming pool, dance hall and, little by little, small guest houses that were rented sometimes for a night and sometimes for most of the summer, though now they serve as full-time residences.

A musician and composer whose claim to fame was the World War II tune "Remember Pearl Harbor," Marcucci entertained guests who came north from San Francisco, sometimes "playing the organ with one hand and the trumpet in the other," his daughter said.

Marcucci-Thibault said they lived in most of the units at some point while they were built, eventually moving into a larger ranch home at the front of the property.


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