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THE REGION

Hotel Secures a Place in History

Tourism: Downtown Ventura's Pierpont Inn, built in 1910, is named to national registry, an honor that is likely to be a boon for business.

October 07, 2002|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Pierpont Inn, way station and occasional home of celebrities and future presidents for nearly a century, has been made a member of the Historic Hotels of America.

"Not only do we get a big shiny plaque, but it helps us market to the rest of the country," said Cynthia Thompson, business development coordinator for the Pierpont, on Sanjon Road in downtown Ventura.

"There is a huge market for cultural tourism, especially after Sept. 11," Thompson said. "Americans want to connect more with their history."

Of the 192 hotels listed by the Historic Hotels of America, 21 are in California. Among them are the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, the Millennium Biltmore in Los Angeles and the El Encanto Hotel & Villas in Santa Barbara.

In order to be listed, a hotel must be more than 50 years old, have a full-service restaurant and be designated as a historic site in the city or county where it is located.

"Marketing to the cultural tourist has becoming an increasingly important part of our promotional effort," said Kathy Janega-Dykes, executive director of the Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau. "California has the highest number of heritage travelers. They are people interested in learning about the history of a community. The Pierpont will benefit from this."

Some travelers make a point of visiting all the hotels and inns nationwide with the historic designation, she said.

The Craftsman-style Pierpont, which has sweeping views of the ocean, was commissioned in 1910 by Ojai socialite Josephine Pierpont, who hired architect Sumner P. Hunt to build it.

Pierpont predicted that the then-nascent automobile industry would soon take off, and when it did, those traveling between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara would want an elegant place to spend the night.

She was right on both counts--cars multiplied, roads were built and people sought out quiet hideaways up and down the coast.

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Bing Crosby and John Travolta are just a few of the celebrities who have stayed at the Pierpont, Thompson said.

Former President George Bush lived at the 77-room Pierpont for a time in 1949, along with his wife and son, now-President George W. Bush. In those days, the elder Bush was learning the oil business in petroleum-rich Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

These days, the inn is sometimes home for celebrities performing with the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura.

"I came here last fall to play at the Rubicon and I was struck by what an extraordinary location this was," actor David Birney said last week at a celebration honoring the inn's historic designation. "This place, with its enormous legacy, supports the theater."

Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) spoke at the celebration of the importance of local history.

"It is so critical that we are able to take a step a back and enjoy the traditions of what made us what we are," she told the 150 people gathered on the back terrace of the inn.

After extensive renovations, Pierpont Inn & Racquet Club co-owner and managing partner Spencer Garrett applied for national historic status, which was granted in July.

Historic Hotels of America, based in Washington, D.C., is run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The group serves as a marketing tool for places like the Pierpont, said spokeswoman Mary Billingsly.

"Hotels seek us out to market their history; other times we seek out hotels," she said.

Color photos and descriptions of the Pierpont will be included in a glossy booklet put out by the organization featuring each of its member facilities.

"Preservation pays," Thompson said. "It increases the identity of a city, it creates a tourist attraction, it creates a sense of community pride in the city and it creates a feeling of good will in outsiders who visit the city."

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