DANVILLE -- Throughout its more than 150-year history, the Danville Hotel has had many lives: it has been a hotel, a boardinghouse, a fine-dining destination, a shopping plaza and a Wild West attraction.
Since 1858, it has been destroyed, rebuilt, revamped and reborn through the eras. And in the New Year, it'll be born again.
Demolition of the dilapidated portions of the building complex, known in its entirety as the Danville Hotel Territory, will begin after Jan. 8, clearing the way for work to start in early February on an 18-month, $25 million construction project to create a 35,000-square-foot retail, residential and commercial development in the heart of downtown.
It will include 16 second-floor condominiums, three restaurants, an outdoor plaza and stores.
But the historic Danville Hotel at 411 Hartz Avenue and the adjacent white, one-and-a-half story McCauley House -- built in 1893 -- will be preserved as historically significant town sites. Buildings added to the site in the 1950s and '60s will be knocked down.
Two new buildings will replace them, one on Prospect and Hartz avenues and the other on Hartz, Facades of the two-story development portion will be made to appear as separate buildings constructed over time.
Once demolition starts, it will last seven to 10 days or more -- longer than a typical knockdown job to carefully separate the historic parts from the nonhistoric.
They are so interlinked that "they are a bit like Siamese twins," said Tom Baldacci, president of Castle Companies, a San Ramon-based development company that has worked with town officials to design this development to help preserve the character of downtown Danville.
So it requires care "on every level," he said, not just for the historic nature of the site but because "Danville loves its downtown area."
Town Manager Joe Calabrigo said it has taken, "all told, 10 years, as the project's design plan has gone through several iterations before it was approved in 2011."
Residents always ask when construction will start, but any kind of Danville development is "done very deliberately," he said, "because at the end of the day, our main goal is to make sure that it's done, and it gets done right."
The place "has a lot of history," Baldacci said, "and it took a lot of consensus building, but we wanted to have it done in a way that everyone could be proud."
Operated by Henry W. Harris, who became the town's first postmaster, the original Danville Hotel was built in 1858 at what is now Front Street and Diablo Road. After 15 years, the hotel was destroyed by fire.
Seventeen years later, with the introduction of the Southern Pacific railroad, the hotel was rebuilt at Railroad Avenue and Short Street by Irish immigrants George and Mary McCauley.¿ They built their home, next door a few years later.
Salesmen, workmen and railway workers and travelers stayed at the hotel and boardinghouse. It was a modest place for a meal, drinks and a bed.
"This was a big destination for people who would use the hotel to sell things to surrounding ranches," said Beverly Lane, curator of the Museum of San Ramon Valley. The boardinghouse became home to one of the area's first restaurants due to Mrs. McCauley's reputation as a cook, Lane added.
By the 30s, the hotel no longer took overnight guests, but it still retained the "Danville Hotel" name.
Many cars traveled there to eat in the restaurant run by German chef Paul Zeibig, who posted a sign proclaiming that he had been praised by Duncan Hines -- then famous for restaurant reviews, but today Hines is best known for his cake mix.
Zeibig's kitchen helped put Danville on the map and drew visitors from across the Bay, Lane said.
Those chapters of Danville's history took place in the buildings that will be historically preserved.
What will be knocked down are the aging frontier-style buildings that are reminiscent of an old movie-set, which some consider an eyesore. But for many, they also still hold cherished memories of the town's history, said Lane. "So, it's sad to see the buildings come down. I will miss it."
Russel Glenn, a business entrepreneur and promoter of Danville as a roadside destination, bought the hotel in 1952. He painted it a dark red and white. And soon, after buying up surrounding properties, he built a Gold Rush frontier-style town behind it, highlighted by the Silver Dollar Room -- a grand banquet room for 300 people.
He was helped by set designers Leon Erickson, later an Academy Award-winner, and Al Locatelli, who became known for his award-winning "American Graffiti" designs.
Glenn hung an entrance sign that proclaimed: "Danville -- 1888," with the slogan, "Old Century Leisure -- New Century Convenience."
He also put up a billboard in San Francisco that boldly asked: "Where the hell is Danville?" teasing travelers to find out themselves.
Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/JoyceTsaiNews.