A dilapidated replica 19th century paddle-wheel riverboat with a colorful history burned in a fire Saturday that sent billowing black clouds over the Vallejo waterfront.
The Vallejo Fire Department reported on social media that there were four people on board the Grand Romance when the blaze started. Two escaped under their own power, and two were helped off by “good samaritans” before fire officials arrived.
The boat, a three-story vessel with a paddlewheel and tall smoke stacks, is anchored off Lemon Street in Carquinez Bay, about 2 miles north of the Carquinez Bridge.
#WATCH : A boat in Vallejo’s Carquinez Bay went up in flames earlier today, as captured in a gripping video all four occupants are safe.
— mishikasingh (@mishika_singh) September 17, 2023
The boat originally had a two-story high grand ballroom with a red velvet stage, a marble dance floor, polished brass fittings and stamped tin ceilings. Its paddlewheel is 16 feet in diameter, and it boasted a mahogany bar.
Originally built in 1993 in Fort Bragg, the vessel was first called the Petaluma Queen. Owner Bill Barker set up a business offering dinner cruises in downtown Petaluma. After an unsuccessful attempt at making it a riverboat gambling parlor, Barker changed its name to Grand Romance, according to news reports at the time.
He moved the boat to Long Beach in 2001, where he hosted dinner and murder mystery cruises, toga parties and other paid events. But eventually, the party ended when Long Beach revoked its permit due to “numerous health and safety issues,” city officials said at the time.
Long Beach officials also had been unhappy when a 40-foot replica pirate ship Barker owned sank in the Long Beach Harbor in 2017.
Barker sailed the riverboat back north in 2019 and moored the boat about 50 feet from the Vallejo shoreline.
The Grand Romance has fallen into disrepair since then. Its windows have been boarded up. It has been painted with graffiti. In one incident, a couple broke into the boat, the Long Beach Press Telegram reported in 2021, and put on the survival suit that was onboard as well as lifejackets, then lashed a trash can and an assortment of empty liquor bottles to it and floated away. Coast Guard officials found the thieves due to a radio beacon in the suit.
On Saturday, video of the stricken vessel showed its first floor largely underwater, and fire gutting the interior.
Neither Barker or officials from the Vallejo Fire Department could be reached Saturday evening for comment.