Pioneer Inn serves up a colorful dish of Clayton history

Pioneer Inn serves up a colorful dish of Clayton history
John Jawad was the final proprietor of the Pioneer Inn, shown here about 1979. The building now houses the Clayton Community Church offices. (Photo courtesy of the Clayton Historical Society)

CLAYTON, CA — The building on Clayton’s Main Street that currently houses Clayton Community Church is on a parcel of land that has been the site of several establishments throughout the town’s history.

The Clayton Hotel was constructed there in 1858 but burned in 1864. Subsequent buildings suffered damage or complete destruction due to fires, earthquakes and falling trees.

Typically, a two-story structure would be rebuilt on the same site following each disaster – until Chubby Humble decided to make improvements to the first floor rather than reconstruct the second story after a fire in the 1950s. This building is the one we recognize today.

Pioneer Inn

Many people from around the Bay Area have fond memories of Clayton’s Pioneer Inn. Humble operated the restaurant 1946-’64 and John Jawad from 1964 until its closure in 1990. Folks came for the delicious food, especially the beef steaks selected by Jawad – who held the title of state brand inspector for Contra Costa County.

The redwood bar was a friendly place to have drinks, and its décor reflected the town’s rural character. Deer and sheep heads were mounted on the walls along with old saddles, branding irons and a rifle that was said to have belonged to a “shotgun messenger” who rode beside the stagecoach driver on the Stockton/Oakland route. There was even an entire stuffed goat.

The house directly across the street from the Pioneer Inn is now known as Cup O’ Jo, but in the past it was home to a lively little girl who was amused how tipsy customers leaving the bar would unerringly walk into the post outside the inn’s front door. For Clayton residents who phoned in dinner reservations, Jawad offered a free car service to pick up patrons and return them safely home after a festive outing.

Dancing under the stars

Pioneer Inn serves up a colorful dish of Clayton history
The 1960 movie, “The Wild Ride,” starred Jack Nicholson.

In nice weather, customers enjoyed the outdoor patio on the right side of the restaurant. Concord and Pittsburg old-timers recall that dining and dancing under the stars and eucalyptus trees sparked many post-WWII romances. Even Hollywood movie stars like John Wayne and Gary Cooper came to the Pioneer Inn to experience the good food and good times; some even arrived in small planes that landed on the airstrip at Easley Ranch.

The aforementioned little girl remembers when a 1960 movie starring Jack Nicholson was filmed at Chubby’s and how she and her brother would disrupt and confuse the director by blowing their father’s duck call whistles from their basement vent.

The working title of the film was “Hot Rods from Hell” and the children liked it because they could say the “H” word. So they must have been disappointed when the film was released as “The Wild Ride.” It is the story of Beat Generation teens, who are seen driving their souped-up cars along Morgan Territory Road, enjoying the river in Antioch and having fun on Chubby’s outdoor patio after a hot rod race.

View the hour-long movie on YouTube for free and get a glimpse of the old Pioneer Inn.

Debbie Eistetter is a board member of the Clayton Historical Society. For more information or to become a member, visit The Clayton Museum is open 2-4 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays at 6101 Main St.. Admission is free.