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VALLEY AND VENTURA COUNTY | VENTURA COUNTY REVIEW /
LEO SMITH

3 Buyers May Put Historic Inn Back on Track

April 07, 1998|LEO SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Next stop, the Glen Tavern Inn.

The historic Santa Paula lodge soon could have its faded reputation as a railway hotel restored.

Pending closure of escrow, the inn will have new ownership--three businesses that want to bring back to life the 87-year-old Tudor-style inn and in the process lend a boost to tourism and commerce in the Santa Clara River Valley.

Developer KL Associates of Oxnard, the Fillmore & Western Railway Co. and Ventura-based Mainstreet Architects & Planners have announced an agreement to purchase the inn, located at the Santa Paula end of the Fillmore & Western Railway route.

Current owner Tokyo International College, a California corporation, has operated the Glen Tavern Inn since 1989 as a dormitory for Japanese students.

The would-be owners anticipate that the transaction will be completed by late summer, with public lodging resuming next fall.

After that, it will be a matter of alerting tourists that the 42-room inn, a Ventura County Historic Landmark and a member of the National Register of Historic Places, is reverting to its old form.

"With the existing history of the tavern, this isn't going to be a marketing problem whatsoever--we're probably going to be full from Day 1, when we open our doors," said Dave Wilkinson, president of the Fillmore & Western Railway Co., which he purchased in 1996.

Wilkinson said the fully functional inn could create up to 50 new jobs to start.

"Let's face it. It's a neat old building, and it works so well with the railroad, it works so well with tourism in the area," he said. "We had looked at the inn before we even bought the railroad. It would be a tremendous venture to take on by ourselves, but with the railroad and KL Associates and Mainstreet Architects, there really is some merit to making it work."

The collective background of the threesome seems to lend itself to renovating and rejuvenating a landmark in the name of tourism.

All three partners have been involved, for the past two years, in plans to market the Santa Clara River Valley--also known as the Heritage Valley--as a multicity tourist destination covering Santa Paula, Fillmore, Piru and the surrounding region.

"There are few things for tourists to see and do, and places for them to eat and stay over, and we believe the Heritage Valley [marketing] concept requires that mosaic," said Richard Keller, a partner in KL Associates.

"The Glen Tavern Inn has been earmarked as one of the critical elements," he said. "It has a great heritage. It's a name everybody recognizes and respects. It's centrally located and can help draw people into the valley and disburse them into Fillmore and other areas.

"Through the railroad, we have the opportunity to get exposure. They literally get thousands of calls a month, and every one of those calls is a potential diner or somebody to stay in a hotel."

The railroad attracts 300 to 500 riders each weekend, Wilkinson said, with ridership increasing by about 30% annually so far.

Keller said he would like the Glen Tavern revitalization and subsequent tourism packages created with the railway to inspire other Santa Clara Valley business owners to market themselves as destination spots. But he's not convinced that will happen quickly.

"What I'd like to tell you is everything else is going to fall into place, but I don't think that," he said. "It's going to take a lot more."

Keller said the Fillmore Fish Hatchery, a restored downtown Piru, packing plants offering tours, retail shops and hiking and biking trails are just some elements of the mosaic that ultimately could attract large numbers of visitors to the area.

"We need all of them because we have to meet the needs of a variety of tourists," he said. "It will be such an economic engine. It's such a clean [industry]. They come, they spend money and they tell others, and then they will come."

Santa Paula and Fillmore will be primary draws, Keller said, in part because of growing interest in downtown areas in general. Keller, who owns two buildings in Santa Monica's restored Third Street Promenade, has witnessed the increase in tourists to such areas.

"There has been a turning of interest in our society from the glamour and glitz of new shopping centers to our downtowns, and they've become very profitable in some cases," Keller said.

"There's always a yearning and searching for new things," he said. "But I think on top of that, there is a huge avalanche of baby boomers who can personally remember the old downtowns, so nostalgia is a part of it."

Keller's two partners also are involved in other projects.

Mainstreet Architects is working on the rejuvenation of Ventura Avenue in Ventura and the Old Town section of Camarillo.

KL Associates is rehabilitating Ventura's historic Peirano building and has served as a consultant for the cities of Oxnard, Ventura and Port Hueneme. The developer has been instrumental in a number of projects including Oxnard's Heritage Square, which it manages, and the Century Theatres multiplex under construction in downtown Ventura.

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