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By Thomas J. Sullivan–
The corner of Auburn Boulevard and Greenback Lane, now the site of several gas stations and convenience stores, was once the scene of a popular 1920s restaurant, inn and service station known as the Florida Inn.
More details about the inn’s history were recently brought to light by the Citrus Heights Historical Society.
The Florida Inn was quite the scene in its day. Owners Henry and Ann Coldani, who opened the inn in 1926, became known in the local area for selling their half-portion fried chicken for just 49 cents. Henry served as the cook and his wife was the business manager.
The Coldani’s son, Henry Jr., also tended the bar and ran its service station. Their daughter, Evelyn, was a member of the house dance team known as The Continental Dancers.
Ann was known to be active politically and socially, supporting many local political candidates and hosting dinners for local dignitaries.
Wooden lattice gave the interior dining and dance area of the Florida Inn an open feel. A photo of the Florida Inn’s interior shows well-dressed men seated at dining tables, along with women wearing bonnet hats. Long curtains served to protect the privacy of guests seated in individual booths.
“It was a favorite place for local celebrities to have a night of entertainment and be out of the limelight,” said Larry Fritz, president of the Citrus Heights Historical Society.
In April, Fritz and his fellow board member Jerry Still traveled to Stockton to interview Hank Coldani III, the surviving grandson of Henry and Ann Coldani.
With the aid of Ancestry.com, Still successfully traced the Coldani family tree and discovered that Hank was living in Stockton. A telephone call soon followed, Hank answered, and soon both Still and Fritz were on their way to interview him.
“Hank and his wife Audrey were delighted to share photographs of the former Florida Inn, his parents, and himself as a boy,” Fritz said.
Hank, 80, born in 1939, was seven years old when his parents sold the Florida Inn and moved to Stockton. Coldani said his late aunt not that long ago left him two large scrapbooks of his family’s history in which the sepia-tinted photos of the former Florida Inn were featured.
The inn, located in the quiet, rural community of Sylvan — as Citrus Heights was then known as — wasn’t far from two busy U.S. Army Air Corps airfields, McClellan and Mather, whose base population grew rapidly with the onset of the second World War.
“I remember the men dressed up in their wartime military uniforms and the ladies who were their dates,” Coldani told The Sentinel in a subsequent interview.
“I regret that through the years I never had the time to go back and see the place after our family moved,” he said. “It was a story that was largely lost to me as the years went by.”
The two thick family history binders brought back memories.
“I just fell in love with the pictures of the Florida Inn when I saw them,” he said. “Those who are in the photos are so young, and they look like they are truly enjoying themselves.”
Henry Ottorino Coldani, Hank’s grandfather, immigrated to the United States in 1906 from Italy, and married Annie Agnes Katherine Dashiell in 1917, in Auburn, California. The couple had invested in the Florida state land boom and opened a business there during Prohibition times.
According to family lore, the pair abruptly packed their belongings and left the state, rather than pay a “protection” fee to keep their business open. They settled in San Diego for a time, then moved to Stockton where they had lived before.
In 1946, Henry and Ann sold the Florida Inn and moved back to Stockton to manage apartment buildings that they owned. Henry was 55 and Ann was 46 at the time, with the two likely looking for a source of income that was less demanding on them, their grandson said.
Young Hank lived at the Florida Inn from 1940 until it was sold in 1946. He remembers the wide-open country of the community of Sylvan which surrounded it.
The longtime resident of Stockton hasn’t returned to the Citrus Heights area since 1946, but hopes memories of his grandparent’s inn will endure.
“I’d like people to remember the Florida Inn as a beautiful place where a great time was had by all who ever came there,” he said.
What happened to the Florida Inn after the Coldani’s sold it is not fully known. Public memories of the Florida Inn have long-faded and all the buildings are gone today.
In 1956, the federal Interstate 80 freeway bypassed the Florida Inn. Business quickly began to decline and by the mid-1960s, the Florida Inn was shuttered for good.
Fritz was 11 years old in 1966 and fondly remembers exploring the ruins of the Florida Inn and the motel which he recalls was built in a bungalow style. “The outside signage was still there,” he said.
“The restaurant/service station was situated on the east side of Auburn Blvd., north of Greenback, and was expanded in two separate phases,” Fritz said.
The Citrus Heights Historical Society president said a motel had been added on the south side of Greenback and the service station was moved next to the motel when it was enlarged.
The restaurant was also enlarged to include a beer garden, which became the main dining and entertainment area. The original part of the restaurant was then used mostly for banquets. The Coldani family also had their personal residence located near their motel.
While the physical site of the Florida Inn may be lost to time, it’s still preserved in a series of sepia-tinted photographs which the Citrus Heights Historical Society now has in its archival collection.
Fritz said older residents of Citrus Heights, or their descendants, who lived near the site in the early 1960s before its demolition may still have photographs or keepsakes from the old Florida Inn. If they do, the Society would like to preserve them and can be contacted through their Facebook page.
The Citrus Heights Historical Society was first formed in 1991 to preserve and promote the history of Citrus Heights, but after being dormant for several years the group made a comeback with History Day at the Rusch Home last year.
Through a recent partnership with the parks district, the society has been asked to open the historic Rusch Home to the public several times a year to showcase local history and present the Society’s latest archives.
Those interested in learning more about the Citrus Heights Historical Society can visit their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/CHHistoricalSociety.
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