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June 22, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Our Town: The last night at Rickey's Our Town: The last night at Rickey's (June 22, 2005)

by Don Kazak

Hyatt Rickey's Hotel, then just Rickeys Garden Hotel, opened for business in May 1952. Last Friday night was the last day of business.

There's a lot of history in a 53-year-old hotel. Business deals were made there, babies were conceived and countless parents of Stanford grads filled its 344 rooms on 53 commencement weekends.

But the old girl's time is over. The dot-com meltdown and 9/11 took away business travelers, who aren't coming back -- or if some do there are newer, spiffier hotels with more flash but without the charm of Hyatt Rickey's.

The dark-brown wooden buildings belong to a different era. And when the bulldozers come, they will belong to no era at all.

James and Patricia Repogle, both 71, were sitting by the swimming pool late Friday afternoon.

"It's a classy old wooden place," James said.

"We've been driving by it for 35 years," Patricia said. They live in Mountain View and stayed at Hyatt Rickey's on its final two nights. Their daughter, son in law and granddaughter joined them from Oregon.

"It's a shame that it's going," Patricia said. "It must be beautiful when the flowers bloom."

It was also James' birthday.

"It's quite romantic and it is meeting our expectations," he said.

By late Friday afternoon, the almost-deserted hotel felt like a ghost town. The mostly low-slung buildings were like a movie set after the picture is over and the cast and crew have gone home.

The six-story tower building, where most last-night guests stayed, is surrounded by a pond -- a moat, really.

Three mallard ducks, two males and a female, were enjoying the water, along with five very small ducklings. When I bent over a railing to get a closer look, one of the males took off, gave one loud "quack" and flew close to my head. Attacked by a duck! It was a mad mallard. (But I wonder what will happen to the five ducklings, Hyatt Rickey's true last guests.)

At Knuckles, the sports bar and restaurant also owned by Hyatt, 17 TVs were tuned to baseball games in the late afternoon, with just a scattering of customers at the bar. It was the last night for Knuckles, too.

Waitress Audrey Ruiz has worked there 41 years. I asked her what she will do now. "Well, this is my normal time to take a vacation," she replied.

She and the other four employees posed for a photo taken by a customer. Then she came over to me, and while I was eating a hamburger put her arm around me for another photo.

"The last customer!" joked the guy taking the photo.

Ruiz said an old-time customer came in to say goodbye recently. He was just a youngster when his dad first brought him there. "Now he's retired from HP, too, just like his dad," she said.

Hyatt Rickey's has been a place for people to meet over the years. The Rotary Club held its weekly lunches in one of the meeting rooms, while the Camino Ballroom hosted all manner of banquets and events.

One last event was held Friday night, the annual banquet of the local chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America.

About 150 people had dinner and watched while the older men in wheelchairs gave awards to staff members of the Spinal Cord Unit of the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Hospital.

After the awards, at 9 p.m., the band began playing, "Strangers in the Night," a song from a different era, fitting for the old hotel.

By 7 a.m. Saturday, just 17 cars remained parked near guest rooms, most of them by the tower.

The demise of Hyatt Rickey's has been happening in slow motion. Plans to tear down the hotel and build a smaller, more modern hotel were abandoned by Hyatt after years of contention over what should be done with the property.

Now, the property has been sold to a Texas housing developer.

Ruiz, the waitress, said she was sad at first about the closing, but it's taken so long that she's gotten used to it.

"We knew they were going to close, but we only got the final date three months ago," she said.

"It's been a long goodbye."

Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak can be emailed at

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