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Saddleback Inn Sold to Group Headed by Its Builder

July 23, 1987|JOHN TIGHE | Times Staff Writer

The Saddleback Inn, Santa Ana's major business hotel for two decades, was sold Wednesday to a group headed by its builder, Bruce Gelker, who owned the hotel in 1964-84.

Gelker's eight-member investment group, which includes Larry Agajanian, a Long Beach realtor, and Kris Kakkar, an Orange County real estate investor, bought the hotel at 1660 East 1st St. from Saddleback Inn-Santa Ana Ltd., a Los Angeles investor group including prominent financier and developer David Murdock and H.R. Haldeman, who was chief of staff in the Nixon Administration.

Gelker would not disclose the sale price but suggested that, including a $1-million renovation planned by his group, the total cost of acquiring the inn would be close to the price he received for the hotel in 1984.

Gelker said he jumped at the opportunity to buy back the hotel because it has remained dear to him.

He said he sold the hotel--the first of four he had built by 1984 but the only one he still owned--because it was time for new challenges.

Afterward, he opened the Saddleback Inn of Lake Arrowhead and continued to operate his 15-year-old travel agency until selling it earlier this year.

Gelker said Wednesday that he wants to return the hotel to its glory days, when it was a Southern California gathering spot for sports personalities. He will begin promoting the hotel immediately and will oversee a renovation of its 231 rooms.

Hugh Knapp, who was general manager of the hotel in 1969-84, has returned as general manager, and Gelker said other new management personnel will be named.

Reviving the hotel will take work, Gelker said. He said previous owners neglected needed repairs and investments.

But he said he is confident that the Saddleback will re-establish its image, even though it now competes with many newer and larger hotels in a crowded Orange County lodging market.

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