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Manka's Inverness Lodge destroyed in fire

Sad news: the main hall at Manka's Inverness Lodge, one of California's most spectacular hotels, was destroyed by a fire - caused by the high winds battering the Bay Area - yesterday. Manka's was a beautiful and friendly place with one of the warmest and most comfortable dining rooms anywhere, a dark and intimate space built in the Arts & Crafts tradition with lots of gleaming wood. Luckily, nobody was hurt, but a number of pieces of Stickley were destroyed, as well as a number of original photographic prints by Dorothea Lange.

The main hall of Manka's Inverness Lodge, a historic Marin County hunting retreat that became a famed hub of gourmet cuisine, burned to the ground early Wednesday.

The shingled structure, built in 1917 of ancient redwood in the Arts and Crafts style, was consumed by wind-whipped flames almost instantly after fire alarms went off around 2:40 a.m., according to witnesses. 

"We went outside and then we saw the main building totally engulfed in flames,'' said Linda Feldman, a visitor from Seattle who was staying in a next- door annex that was not damaged. "It was huge. Flames were coming out the windows.'' 

Investigators suspect the blaze started after winds sent a tree crashing into the lodge, damaging a water heater. The inn and restaurant is located on a bluff above Tomales Bay in the town of Inverness, about two hours north of San Francisco.

There were no injuries. Eight guests in the four rooms above the restaurant narrowly escaped and lost most of their belongings in the two-alarm conflagration, which firefighters contained at 7:30 a.m. 

Also destroyed were valuable furnishings, including pieces of furniture by Gustav Stickley, the early 20th century Arts and Crafts designer; photographs by Dorothea Lange; and a 17th century Parisian pharmacy cabinet recently installed in the entry.