Renovation restores Ojai history
By Jesse Phelps
The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
isn't the only local resort undergoing a makeover. As all the
construction fences, signs and equipment on Ojai Avenue will
attest, The Oaks at Ojai is getting being prettied-up as well.
Yet while the inn's expansion includes the remodeingl of more
than 160 rooms,The Oaks project, said architect David Bury, will
proceed in three phases, with a maximum room closure at any one
time of seven.
The first phase includes the remodeling of seven rooms, including
new, smaller balconies with sound-dampening French doors, and
the addition of an arch on the western end, reminiscent of the
original entrance arch on the southern face.
The second phase will include the revamping of the rest of the
south-facing side and the eastern side of the building, which
faces Signal Street. There, a patio dining area will make use
of the view onto Ojai's busiest corner.
The third phase could include the addition of a men's spa.
Bury said this schedule will have two main effects. First, limiting
closure will help avoid a major impact on bed tax revenues, relied
upon by the city to fund a host of programs and activities.
"We're all concerned about that," he said, "but
this is not part of that problem because it's such a minor percentage
and we'll be back in full operation March 1st."
Also, said Bury, resorts such as The Oaks rely on return business.
Guests who expect a certain experience can enjoy what has become
familiar, even as construction proceeds on a limited area of
Bury took the Ojai Valley News on a walk-through and explained
the many aspects of the enhancement, which also includes the
restoration of the original perimeter wall and some cosmetic
windows, the rebuilding of the carport in something resembling
the Mission Revival style of the rest of the building, and the
elimination of a modern post-and-beam addition to the southern
"We've been describing this project as a little bit of urban
archaeology," said Bury. "We have documentation of
what was originally built. We're trying to understand what the
decisions were of the original architects and the original owners
and use that in our decision making process for this new renovation."
Bury said that on-site workers have uncovered previously forgotten
relics and surprising findings from the building's previous life
as the El Roblar Hotel, including the cosmetic windows, which
he said are quite atypical, considering the simplicity of most
of the original design.
"Our intention was to restore the character," he said.
Referring to the windows, he said, "We're going to make
that work this time. We're going to install them again and make
them part of the architectural detailing. These are the kinds
of things that really inspire designers and architects."
He said that the extent of previous modifications was the other
major surprise. "You open it up and you could really see
the patchwork of framing," he said. "It'll have to
be strengthened. And we'll be seismically upgrading."
But Bury said restoring the flavor of that design is priority
No. 1. Over the years, he said, additions like the post-and-beam
balcony system turned the hotel into "a patchwork. There
were holes everywhere, windows had been replaced, windows and
architectural elements had been removed," he said. Many
elements, he said, were "out of character."
Working with what he calls his "design collective,"
which also includes contractor Tim Droney and interior designer
Maraya Droney, Bury said the project is coming in on schedule.
Phase one should be continue until March and phase two, he said,
will be complete in 2004.
He also said that the project has been before the Historical
Preservation Commission, the Planning Commission and the Redevelopment
Agency and has received near unanimous support.
Bury said the hotel is the last remaning Avenue building that
needs restoration to fit the mission revival style. He commended
owners Sheila Cluff - who he termed a "spa guru" -
and husband Don for undertaking the project.
"The Cluffs have even greater plans to improve the property,"
he said. "That will be phase three."
Bury has had a hand in the prior restorations, such as the adjacent
church (now museum) building, and is excited to be working on
the Oaks. "This has been a dream project for me," he
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