Health officials intervene at Nevada City’s National Hotel
After its kitchen was nearly shut down at the end of 2011, conditions appear to be slowly improving at the more than 150-year-old National Hotel in downtown Nevada City.
Owner Thomas Coleman has been operating on a conditional permit for the hotel’s kitchen, after the Nevada County Department of Environmental Health responded to complaints and found numerous health code violations, including rampant rodent infestations and their feces in cooking and food storage areas, as well as throughout the entire building.
Coleman also faces nearly $6,000 in penalties from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health from a case that is still listed as open, according to officials in that department.
Some of the additional health and safety hazards examined by officials include asbestos, mold, open sewage and structural degradation, particularly the roof, which has leaked and caused the closure of rooms on the top floor.
“We gave him a real short time frame, a week or so, on some things, such as the rodent infestation … More serious, expensive items, such as the roof, we give them a timeline that makes sense,” said Wesley Nicks, director of the county environmental health department. “He jumped on everything we had immediately to do.”
Coleman blames a fired employee for reporting the National out of retribution.
“He reported me to every agency in the world,” Coleman said, who noted he is working to address those agencies’ requests.
“I’m working to try to get it all done since he was terminated,” Coleman said. “I am trying to comply with their time limits, I’m not fighting their issues.”
In April, former maintenance supervisor Matt Catani, a Nevada City resident, delivered several employee complaints, inspection reports and pictures of dilapidation and dead rodents to county health officials, Nevada City Manager David Brennan, Nevada City’s fire chief and The Union. Catani alleges he was fired because of complaints he filed.
“The largest evidence of infestation was found in the attic space above room 54 and 55, where large amounts of feces, strong urine, small and large amount of storage items and accumulated debris for harborage was found, indicating the entire hotel as a whole has an active rodent infestation,” reads a June 20 inspection and violation report from the county health department about observations made prior to recent extermination efforts.
According to inspection reports, Coleman has taken action to mitigate the pest problem with an exterminator, preventative trapping and the closure of entry points.
“They have been cleared up and all gone,” Coleman said, saying the rats came to his hotel when a neighboring building’s basement was renovated.
The June 20 inspection report also cited significant improvement on outside harborage debris removal and rodent droppings in the kitchen, food storage and crawl space, as well as outside of the hotel.
However, that same report indicates Coleman had not yet submitted a rodent elimination plan nor a date of attic debris removal. Coleman has until July 13 to provide that action plan.
One of the largest challenges to bring the hotel up to code is its roof, which reportedly is plagued with holes that cause leaks that sent plaster and construction debris onto underlying floors, affecting more than a dozen rooms. The county health department has mandated those rooms remain vacant until corrective actions are taken.
“To state that the roof has been compromised would understate the problem,” said Randall Pool, the National’s maintenance supervisor.
“There was so much damage from the roof leaking that it destroyed some of the rooms,” Nicks said.
As moisture enters a structure, mold is sure to follow, Pool noted.
Coleman said he has cordoned off hotel rooms, as well as two storage rooms. He also reportedly agreed to obtain a permit and repair the roof by July 29, according to the health department.
Originally the Bicknell Block, what is now the National Hotel is actually three common-walled buildings that originally housed stagecoach operations, the mail express and the town’s telegraph center in its gold mining days, according to the Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission.
It was also reportedly the site of the state’s first whipping post. The company that would eventually become Pacific Gas and Electric got its start there.
The National Hotel opened for business in 1856 after the three buildings were conjoined with a façade in 1854. As the longest continuous operating hotel west of the Rockies, the National is registered as both a California and a national historical landmark.
“I don’t own the hotel, the community does. I’m just using it right now,” said Coleman, who has owned the building for 33 years.
“If the hotel were ever to close or quit operating, it would it be a definite negative to the entire city,” he said. “It is a draw. It is quite an important structure for the city.”
Coleman has invested in the old building, he said, putting a new roof on decades ago, as well as a new kitchen in 1979.
In 2002, Nevada City and county officials cordoned off the hotel’s iconic balcony from use for two years due to safety concerns about its structural integrity. Coleman spent close to $100,000 on a rebuild and it was balcony reopened in 2004.
“It’s a cornerstone of Nevada City,” Nicks said. “We would like to see him successful, obviously, and (the hotel) operated in a manner that is protective of public health.”
In addition to the mandated roof repairs, Coleman said he wants to upgrade all the hotel bathrooms to reflect modern preferences.
“There are things that need to be done yesterday, and there are things he is working on,” Pool said. “This is a public establishment and a public building. This place is bigger than him and I.”
Coleman’s overall progress is scheduled to be evaluated today, when county health officials will perform their next inspection. Until all matters are remedied or a sufficient plan for remedying them is submitted, the National will continue to be subjected to frequent inspections.
“He had a lot to do,” Nicks said. “We have our fingers crossed.”
Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker can be reached at (530) 477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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