VALON — Even though it's been open only a year, the elegant and expensive Inn on Mt. Ada is already so popular that you might have to make your reservations a year in advance.
Formerly called simply "the Wrigley mansion," it was once the Santa Catalina Island summer home of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. Now it is the kind of special-occasion place where people go to celebrate their wedding anniversaries, and more often than not they sign up for the following year's anniversary before they leave the island.
Other couples have booked the mansion for the wedding itself, filling the house with flowers; descending the grand staircase for the nuptials; housing bridesmaids, relatives and in-laws in the upstairs bedrooms for the duration of the festivities.
The old house has been given a delightful new lease on life. It has dominated the island scene for decades with its imposing hilltop presence, but has been of little use behind its pretty face.
Now, after $1 million worth of careful restoration and remodeling that tended to every luxurious detail, the mansion is receiving guests. Paying guests, of course. The smallest of the six bedrooms costs $140 a night; the most expensive--William and Ada Wrigley's private suite, no less--costs $330 a night.
Why are people lining up to pay this much for a room at the inn?
Certainly for the elegance. Guests rent not only a bedroom or a suite (four with fireplaces, all with fantastic views of Avalon or the coastline) but have the run of the house. There's the grand piano just waiting for someone to play it. The terrace with views of forever. Shelves full of books waiting to be read at leisure. The billiards room (now a den), Wrigley's small study in a corner room, a cheerful sun porch and the large comfortable living room.
And for the service. Coffee and orange juice attractively set out at 7 a.m. on an upstairs buffet. Hearty breakfast served in the Georgian dining room. Fresh-baked cookies sometime during the day. A decanter of sherry on the buffet; steaming coffee available in the butler's pantry. Hot and cold hors d'oeuvres and wine in the early evening. Unlimited taxi service down to Avalon and back up the hill.
And for the little extras: A phone room hidden under the staircase in case one must be in touch with business or home. Terry cloth robes in all the guest rooms. Canopy beds and four-posters, leaded glass and silk flowers, polished brass and crystal chandeliers.
The Inn on Mt. Ada provides a chance to live for a short time in the fine style of a wealthy family on vacation in the '20s.
The grounds occupy nearly six acres on Mt. Ada, reportedly chosen as the finest location on the island. Not only does Mt. Ada look out over the town and harbor and on a clear day the California mainland, it is said to be the place that catches the first hint of dawn, as well as the last whisper of twilight when the sun dips behind the hill that wraps around Avalon.
The main house, a Georgian Colonial, covers about 7,000 square feet and features stately columns and arches, French doors, paneled insets and handmade dentil moldings.
Besides the obvious charms of the place, the price of the rooms also reflects the large amount of money that had to be spent laying pipes and putting in a heavy-duty pump to meet county fire regulations, installing recessed sprinklers in the ceilings and restaurant-type facilities in the kitchen, the innkeepers said.
The mansion, built in 1921, was of quality construction and had been kept in good repair. During remodeling, five fireplaces and one bathroom were added. Such features as curved ceilings, built-in bookcases and narrow-plank floors were retained.
The dark mahogany-and-velvet look of the 1920s was replaced by a lighter ambiance. Mrs. Wrigley's custom-made little Victorian couch and chairs (she was 4 feet 11), the family's grand player piano and Wrigley's billiards table have been removed.
In their place are a beautifully coordinated assembly of fine antiques, a pair of restored wingback chairs, glass-topped tables and rattan chairs, an old grand piano, silk flowers and crystal chandeliers created especially for the inn by an early guest, Ernst Meer, who also designed the chandeliers for the MGM Grand, now Bally's Grand.
One could not ask for innkeepers more warm and inviting than Marlene McAdam and Susie Griffin. They, along with Marlene's brother and his wife, Scott and Suzie Wauben of Long Beach, and Wayne Griffin (Susie's husband)--all novices at hotel management--undertook the restoration of the mansion and a 30-year mortgage to pay for it. USC owns the property, a gift from Wrigley's descendants, and is leasing it to the group.
Marlene and her daughter, 13, live in the carriage house and the Griffins and their two daughters, ages 8 and 11, live in the servants' wing. After months of working night and day to get the house ready for paying guests, the two women take turns doing innkeeper duty. Both families have lived on the island for several years.