Mike Hornick, Staff Writer
Mike Hornick, Staff Writer

Taylor Fresh Foods’ push to acquire a downtown Salinas, Calif., site for a new corporate headquarters would return the property to a use more in line with its history than most city residents remember.

The city recently approved a 90-day exclusive negotiating rights agreement with Taylor Fresh Foods for the 1.6-acre site on the 100 block of Main Street.

The company proposes 80,000 square feet of construction in four or five stories, with street level retail and underground parking.

About 200 employees would work there.

The place has been vacant since 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake made its pitch for urban renewal.

The old rooming house that stood there was a landmark to some and an eyesore to others. It didn’t collapse in the quake, but the city razed it as a safety precaution. Today it’s a parking lot opposite Maya Cinemas and the National Steinbeck Center.

But during its heyday — from 1920 into the 1950s — it was the Cominos Hotel. And it was the place to be in Salinas.

President Warren G. Harding stayed there. Later guests included heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer; California governor Earl Warren; and the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

In 1950, Main Street was still part of Highway 101. Seems quaint now.

The Cominos Hotel opened the first bar in Salinas when Prohibition ended in 1933. Right about then, author John Steinbeck became a regular. He mentions the Cominos in a short story, “The Chrysanthemums.”

But the pulse of the place was business. Lettuce shipped by rail, and growers and railroad execs struck deals in the Cominos.

Artichoke pioneer Andrew Molera, who later had a state park in Big Sur named for him, was a resident of the hotel.

Art Sbrana of Mann Packing — great uncle of Lorri Koster, Mann’s vice president of marketing — often stopped by.

So if Taylor Fresh Foods acquires the property, it will have come full circle. It would breathe some new life into Salinas’ historic core.

If Taylor moves in, interest in the area seems likely only to rise in agribusiness circles.

Last year, Colorful Harvest moved its headquarters to an existing building on the 500 block.

A downtown hotel is a long-held dream for some here, but you have to wonder if an economic basis exists. The city has been snake-bitten when it comes to hotel proposals. Three have been made for the site since 2000 by various investors, but all fell through for one reason or another.

Nevertheless, one of those investors, Gerry Kehoe, has said he plans to build a hotel nearby in the 300 block, where a large clothing store closed some years ago.

Kehoe, based in Florida, is fond of Salinas and from time to time purchases a downtown property here.

He also plans to put the Western Flyer — a boat that Steinbeck and his friend Ed Ricketts sailed to the Sea of Cortez — in one of the hotel’s dining areas. He bought the Flyer late last year.

We’ll see.


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