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May 17, 2021

Historic SeaBreeze Tavern demolished

RIO DEL MAR—Nearly 11 months after a fire gutted the historic Seabreeze Tavern and severely weakened the structure, demolition of the building began Tuesday.

The work is being conducted by a private contractor, Santa Cruz County spokesperson Jason Hoppin said. It is not clear what will happen with the property once the demolition is complete. Attempts to reach property owner Omar Billawala were not successful Monday.

The demolition follows a March 9 report by engineer Chuck Voong, who wrote that the fire severely damaged the entire structure, and completely destroyed the roof. The lack of a roof, Voong added, weakened the walls.

“With the lack of lateral support from the roof and the exterior walls, it is my opinion that the building is not structurally safe and is not salvageable,” Voong wrote. “It is my recommendation that the building should be demolished.”

An April 5 report by the County Planning Department to the Historic Resources Commission concurred with those findings.

“Based upon the findings and analysis from the engineer and several site inspections, the County Building Official made the determination that the building posed a substantial and immediate threat to health and safety,” the report states.

The storied tavern began its life 93 years ago in Rio Del Mar as a real estate office working to develop the up-and-coming beach town.

Fire officials have not determined a cause for the June 14 fire, which began in a pile of rubble stored on the outside of the building at about 9:30pm.

But the blaze was a befitting bookend in the story of an establishment that has been home to a cast of equally unique characters.

Dozens were on hand on Tuesday morning. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

This includes Georgia May Derber, who used an inheritance to purchase the bar, ran it into disrepair and then closed it in 1988, living as a hermit in the upper floor, where she was found dead in 2004. A decommissioned toilet on the building’s balcony was among Derber’s legacy.

Rich McInnis bought the tavern one year later for just over $1.3 million, but plans to restore the place to its former glory never materialized. Instead, it languished as an eyesore as discarded detritus piles accumulated outside.

In addition to losing his liquor license, McInnis filed for bankruptcy multiple times between 2008 and 2018.

He also ran a failed campaign for County Supervisor in 2012, garnering 6% of the vote.

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