McKee is looking for photos and stories about activities that took place there and groups who attended, as well as information that makes mention of Rickey's in its various name iterations — such as Rickeys Studio Inn or Rickeys Garden Hotel.
Several famous people stayed at Rickey's through the years, including former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, track legend Jesse Owens, and baseball immortal Willie Mays.
"The builder, D. R. Horton, recognized the importance of the history of this area, and wanted to commemorate everything that went on there," McKee said.
The search for Rickey's memorabilia began in March and has proven somewhat difficult, she said. So far, McKee has received a Rickey's ashtray and researched articles at the Palo Alto Historical Association. She has also purchased postcards of different eras of Rickey's from people selling memorabilia on the Web.
Among the more interesting artifacts is a newspaper article from the mid-1950s that discusses the cheesecake that owner John H. Rickey's wife, Lorraine Bensley, used to make and sell at her husband's restaurant.
"It was a secret recipe. She feared someone would open a cheesecake shop across the street if she released it," McKee said.
Among the treasures McKee would like to get her hands on is a reproduction of a 300-year-old map depicting California as an island. Rickey's gave out the maps, lithographed on parchment, to promote the hotel's 10th anniversary, she said.
McKee said her research has so far found that Rickey, a Swiss native, emigrated to the United States at age 13. He worked in restaurants in New York and purchased a delicatessen with $750 he'd saved. He moved West during the Depression, where he tried taming lumberjacks' appetites in Lassen County, according to one news report.
At the start of World War II, he moved to Nevada, where he was in charge of food service for a military base and prepared 1,500 to 1,800 meals daily for construction workers building an ammunitions depot.
When he was transferred to Moffett Field, he fell in love with the Bay Area and decided to make the area his permanent home. His first bistro opened on El Camino Real in 1945.
An avid art collector, he displayed art on the walls of his restaurant — hence, the name Rickeys Studio Inn.
In 1947, he dreamt of opening a garden hotel, which would be different from the enclosed hotels in San Francisco. He began collecting statuary for the garden and timbers from an old San Francisco brewery for the roof. The design would allow guests to step out of their hotel-room doors into a garden, but be protected by an overhang.
Rickeys Garden Hotel entered its first controversy when nearby homeowners protested the hotel. He was a master of marketing, though, and gave a party for the neighborhood where opponents were convinced to support the hotel. The first Rickeys had a croquet lawn, putting greens and a swan lake. His wife's father, an interior designer, helped decorate the establishment's interior.
Members of the University Club of Palo Alto formed their organization during weekly lunches at Rickeys Garden Hotel, said Betty Evans, whose husband Stanley was an early member. Rickeys was a modest one-story building at that time, and the shops weren't there yet, she added.
The hotel again became the center of neighborhood controversy when plans were made for a sprawling, six-story complex, McKee said. It was eventually built.
John Rickey became a prominent Palo Alto resident. In 1955, "he put aside his hobby of cross-breeding pigs," when he moved from Los Altos Hills to Crescent Park, McKee said.
Rickey's eventually became the place to host community functions — everything from fuel-cell seminars to weddings.
The Palo Alto Rotary Club met there for a half-century. Members gathered weekly at the hotel, where they had their own wait staff, Rotary President Iris Korol said. Two brothers who had waited on the group for many years became such fixtures of Rotary meetings, they were made honorary Rotary members. After the hotel closed, the club helped find jobs for the two men.
After 50 years of hanging out at Rickey's, Rotary members couldn't get used to the idea the hotel was closing.
"They kept telling me that they wanted to meet at Rickey's," Korol said. "I said, 'Do you want to meet at a hole in the ground?'"
To contribute stories, photographs, letters and memorabilia on any phase of Rickey's to the memorabilia wall, contact Suzi McKee at (650) 802-9080.
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