New Look for Laguna Hotel Taking Shape

Aliso Creek Inn principal Mark Christy lays plans to start improvements on the aging property.
Aliso Creek Inn principal Mark Christy lays plans to start improvements on the aging property.

The Aliso Creek Inn will shut down for several months beginning Nov. 1 to begin room renovations by the new owners, though the golf course and banquet facilities will remain open and available for holiday bookings, a co-owner and manager said this week.

Changes at the Aliso Canyon resort will be unobtrusive, aligning with the footprint of buildings already there, said local resident Mark Christy, who heads up Laguna Beach Golf & Bungalow LLC. The property’s name may also change, said Christy, because regular patrons find it blasé after favoring the person and the history behind the previous name.  “Very few locals have ever called it Aliso Creek Inn,” he said. “We’ve always called the course Ben Brown’s.”

Christy said no official plans have been submitted to the city, which was confirmed by city planner Ann Larson. Scott Drapkin, another city planner, said if the renovations go beyond simple painting, wallpapering and reflooring, such as upgrading electrical systems and plumbing, permits would be required.  Noting the upcoming start date, he added that the time it would take to receive permits would vary depending on the extent of the room remodels.  Some building permits are issued over-the-counter in the same day, Larson added.

Christy said redesign plans, under the oversight of local architect Morris Skenderian, are in the works.

Revamping an old property opens and empties pockets.  “That place needs a lot of money; $100,000 a room could go very quickly,” said Alan X. Reay, president of Irvine’s Atlas Hospitality Group, a hotel broker. “The issue with old buildings is, once you open them up, you never know what you will find.”

Because beach resorts generate most of their revenue during summer, Reay thought renovating rooms in the winter made sense.  The inn will then reap the benefits next summer.

In an earlier article, Christy compared development plans by the previous owner to plunking a state-of-the-art ballpark within Boston’s historic, revered Fenway Park. “That’s not what we’re doing,” he asserted.  “We’re renovating what’s there and keeping the golf course as it is. There’s a dollar limit.”

Christy said plans will respect the integrity and heritage of the property, which dates back to the 1871 152-acre homestead by George and Sarah Thurston. “If Vi Brown were alive, she would love it,” he said.  Mrs. Brown, the third owner of the property, sold it to Aliso Creek Properties LLC in 2004.  Her husband, Ben, developed the property decades ago and operated the well-known Ben Brown’s Restaurant, a local favorite. She renamed it Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course in 1978, eight years after his death.

Aliso Creek Properties, whose principles include investors in Montage Hotels and Resorts LLC, shelved their own ambitious redevelopment plan during the recent economic downturn and sold the property to Christy’s group in July.

Renovating the lodge, however, will need approval from the city’s design review board, Christy said, particularly to comply with American with Disabilities Act requirements.  “It needs it obviously,” he commented.

“It’s very compartmentalized.  It doesn’t have handicapped-defined restrooms. It doesn’t have an elevator.  It doesn’t have the stuff it needs to have in order to be functional for a variety of uses, be it weddings or banquets or whatever.  Literally, I don’t think the carpeting has been changed in 50 years.  It needs to be loved and we’re going to love it.”

Christy said the overhaul will add a “sense of arrival” that the property now lacks.

Nothing will be demolished on the property, management confirmed, only modernization of structures, utilities and amenities.  Christy said there’s no plan to add a bike or hiking trail through the property, which sits at the south end of Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park.  “We’re not going to run it down the middle of the course because there’s five holes that cross that trail and a golf ball can travel at 200 miles per hour,” he said, adding that he is open to future discussions.

The 62-room, single-story hotel was originally built by Brown with a creekside bungalow where he and his wife lived. Groups that hold regular meetings there, such as Laguna’s Rotary Club and the PTA Coffee Break series, were notified that meeting rooms would be closed during renovation.



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