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Ventura County

Gem of a Hotel Retains Its Luster

Santa Paula: The Glen Tavern Inn is spruced up and reopened after being closed for 10 years. City hopes it will enhance the area's image.

September 01, 2002|SUZIE ST. JOHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nine months into the restoration of the Glen Tavern Inn, new owner Steve Talley is confident he can return the historic Santa Paula hotel to its former splendor.

Once a haven for movie stars and oil tycoons, the 46-room hotel recently reopened after being closed for 10 years. City officials and local historians have great expectations for its future.

"There is a lot of affection for this hotel in the community," said historian Mitch Stone of San Buenaventura Research Associates in Santa Paula.

Paul Skeels, interim city manager and longtime fire chief, was equally enthusiastic.

"When the Glen Tavern was originally built it was the crown jewel of Santa Paula. It will be a big plus for the city when the hotel is completed."

The history of the sprawling three-story hotel at 134 N. Mill St. is rich with tales of visits by celebrities, including Mary Pickford, Clark Gable, Harry Houdini and Rin Tin Tin.

During its 91-year history, the Craftsman-style inn, with Tudor influences, has been used as a hotel, a boardinghouse for female war employees during World War II and a college dormitory. It was built in 1911 by a group of Santa Paula investors who gave it the city's surrogate name, Glen City, referring to the green glens of the Santa Clara River Valley.

Constructed of Oregon redwood, the 20,000-square-foot building was designed by architects Sumner Hunt and Silas Burns and is one of only three hotels designated Ventura County historic landmarks. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Glen Tavern Inn has a restaurant and bar, swimming pool and sitting room, an antique piano and the original sandstone fireplace, which measures 17 feet across.

A larger bar with two apartments overhead was added in the early 1950s. Though it sits adjacent to the inn, it was not built in the same architectural style--something Talley plans to change.

A decline in the economy led to the inn's sale in 1989 by local investor Mel Cummings to Tokyo International College for $2.1 million. It then served as a dormitory for Japanese students taking classes in the area.

Talley and a silent investor whom he declined to identify bought the property in November for $590,000.

"They had wanted $1.3 million, so they basically gave it me. I'll probably have to put another $500,000 into it, but I love it," said Talley, who owns interests in several other properties.

The work required to make the inn operational again was daunting, but Talley said he and his son, David, 6, have fallen in love with the inn and the area.

"I've never worked so hard and never had so much fun in my life," said Talley, 50, of Santa Barbara. He hopes to move to Ventura County soon.

The inn remained closed for the first three months of Talley's ownership, while new gas and water lines were installed. Each guest room has a distinct design and seven are outfitted with whirlpool tubs. The rooms are being refurbished with new paint and carpets, and the kitchen and pool house are being renovated.

Talley started taking reservations in March for the 17 rooms currently available for guests. He runs the inn with a manager, two maids and a maintenance man.

A wrought iron gazebo was added on the expansive front lawn, which will eventually be offered for weddings at no cost.

"My hope is that if people get married in the gazebo, they will stay in the hotel and use the restaurant for their receptions," said Talley who is in the market for a chef.

The inn, at the corner of Mill and Santa Barbara streets, is a block away from downtown Santa Paula and across the street from the train depot.

The City Council recently voted to spend $1 million to enhance the railway plaza and plans to cut off traffic on Mill Street between Santa Barbara Street and Railroad Avenue. The train platform will be extended and a public park added.

Public Works Director Norm Wilkinson, who is also the city engineer, said most of the money for the project is coming from state and federal grants.

"Having that park right across the street from the hotel can only be good for business," Talley said. "We've been doing pretty well with reservations so far, but every little bit helps."

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