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New Owner Aims to Make Matilija Spa 'World Class'

March 31, 1988|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

A Malibu designer who bought historic Matilija Hot Springs at a county auction last month says he wants to turn the rustic Ojai spot into a "world-class health spa."

In a 52-page proposal to county officials, Fritz Boyce said he envisions upgrading the existing mineral baths and adding attractions that include botanical gardens, meditation rooms, footpaths, exercise facilities, a skin-care clinic and a "five-star restaurant."

Matilija now "is a very romantic place but it's so run-down and obsolete," Boyce said.

With partner Lynda B. Doye, Boyce bought the 9.5-acre property from Ventura County for $546,000 after its former operator fell $50,000 behind on his rent. Ventura County purchased Matilija in 1947 for flood-control purposes and began leasing the property to private operators when water from the Matilija Dam did not inundate the land as expected.

Decided to Sell

But last year the county decided to sell Matilija and invest the proceeds in its other larger parks.

Bob Laughlin, supervising county planner, said this week that Boyce's proposal is preliminary and will have to comply with many county requirements, including flood-control studies and public hearings, before it can win final approval.

But Laughlin termed the project "viable" and said it would require no zoning change.

"They just basically upgraded the theme of a restaurant and a spa," Laughlin said.

The proposal to revamp the 116-year-old hot springs was applauded by city officials in nearby Ojai.

Matilija "has been . . . sort of neglected. I think the change would be good," said Joan Kus, Ojai's director of planning and building.

Boyce originally said he intended to live at the mineral baths site and raise his family there. But he has since decided that sprucing up the spa makes better financial sense, although he stressed that there are no plans for overnight accommodations or conference centers.

Bus Trip to the Spa

According to the proposal, visitors would be lodged in Ojai and taken to the spa for day trips on shuttle buses. Boyce said he also is talking with officials about leasing some county-owned land next to the hot springs to build reflecting pools, pavilions and a dining terrace.

Boyce and Doye, who say they are seeking $6 million to $8 million to develop Matilija, have formed a firm called Syntropics Health Spas Inc.

Boyce said he wants his spa to evoke Santa Fe. He pictures two-story, adobe-like buildings that blend in with the natural surroundings--a mountain glen curled around a stream and framed by sheer cliffs. Matilija was an ancient Chumash Indian ceremonial grounds, according to Ojai historians.

Legend has it that an Indian chief named Matilija who once led a rebellion against Spanish garrison troops stationed at the San Buenaventura Mission lies buried above the mineral baths, at a site marked by a solitary white cross.

Boyce says he intends to capitalize on the mystique of the place.

"Matilija's views and the opportunity to watch and listen to the naturally occurring sound of running water and abundance of small animals which populate the area are intrinsic relaxation devices," his firm's proposal says.

Boyce also wants to build community and individual kivas-- the Pueblo Indian rooms that were used for religious and ceremonial purposes.

"I want it to look like the wind and the tide and the sand made it," Boyce said. "Very natural and hugged into the land."

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