Prominent local developer hopes to revitalize the chic “Mad Men”-era Clarion Hotel
“I think it’s unfortunate that Sacramento doesn't have that many old buildings from different eras that we can bring back,” says real estate developer Sotiris Kolokotronis, whose urban infill projects like the L Street Lofts, 1801 L Street and the Fremont Building helped turn midtown into the epicenter of our urban renaissance. He says this standing in front of his latest acquisition, the former Mansion Inn (later the Clarion Hotel), which he hopes to restore and reopen as an art-filled urban oasis—and the hippest boutique hotel in town.
The two-story structure on the corner of 16th and H, right across from the street from the historic Governor’s Mansion and adjacent to the Wells Fargo Pavilion, is almost completely covered in a jungle of dense vines, but step inside, and you’re transported into a time capsule.
Evidence of an ill-conceived ’80s makeover—shades of teal and mauve, swag draperies and marble details—make clear that the hotel had long been out of fashion before it finally shuttered in 2012. But that slathering of décor can’t hide the fact that this building, designed by the late pioneering architect Leonard Blackford of local firm Dreyfuss & Blackford in 1958 and expanded several times by the firm, including the addition of a stylistically consistent batch of new rooms in 1971-72, is a largely intact mid-century modern gem. Kolokotronis hasn’t settled on an architecture or interior design team yet. He’s talking to Dreyfuss & Blackford, but wants the talent search to be global.
In the meantime, the developer is digging into the property’s storied past. “We are starting the process of collecting information on the history of this place,” Kolokotronis says. “Back when it opened, all of the big names who came to perform at the Memorial [Auditorium] stayed here. It was the place." Liberace was a Mansion Inn guest, as were The Beach Boys and Marlene Dietrich. "You look at it now and you want to cry.”
Close your eyes and you can almost hear Ol' Blue Eyes crooning at the bar over the tinkle of martini glasses. In 1992, the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who would go on to create The West Wing, holed up here to rewrite his stage play, Hidden in This Picture, for a production at his pal Timothy Busfield's then-new B Street Theatre.
The design of the building was novel when it opened for having very few windows facing the street to control road noise. All rooms open onto two central courtyards, one surrounding an oval swimming pool and another featuring trees and a meandering water feature. Pictures from the era show groupings of classic Bertoia wire chairs dotting the patio areas, Saarinen womb chairs in the bar, and society ladies in beehives prancing out the front door. Today, the swimming pool is half-filled with brackish rainwater and pieces of the ugly '80s furniture that squatters have thrown into it.
When he was in office, Gov. Pat Brown used to pad across the street in his robe and flip-flops at the crack of dawn to jump into the pool, much to his wife’s mortification, especially when The Sacramento Bee eventually snapped a photo of him in this unstatesmanlike pursuit. According to Kolokotronis (and The Bee seems to agree on this point), she convinced his donors to put a pool in behind the mansion just so he’d stop.
Kolokotronis’ vision for the place is ambitious. He thinks it’s high time Sacramento’s hotel scene caught up to its restaurant scene. There’s the Citizen Hotel, the upcoming Kimpton Sawyer Hotel at Downtown Commons, restaurateur Randy Paragary’s plans for a boutique hotel next to the new B Street Theatre in midtown, and the clever retro Greens Hotel out on Del Paso, but the pickings are slim for the kind of hip visitors the city hopes to attract.
Kolokotronis and his partners are hoping to form a public-private partnership with the city to develop the property into a showpiece that celebrates Sacramento’s glamorous history. He’s fresh off a nationwide tour scouting for ideas. The Ace and Jupiter hotels in Portland impressed him, as well as the art-forward Found:Re in Phoenix, and most of all the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, which was built by members of the Brown-Forman family (of Jack Daniels fame) to showcase their art collection.
“They have a full-time curator on staff,” Kolokotronis says. “We can do that here. We want to celebrate our up-and-coming art community, and the farm-to-fork element. We can make this the coolest hotel in Sacramento.”
Kolokotronis also acquired the parking lot across the street from the property, and recently filed plans to build a 75-unit apartment building, designed by Portland firm C2K—whose own remodeled mid-century headquarters look like a place Don Draper would be happy to settle in for some prodigious day drinking. If the public-private partnership for the hotel concept doesn't materialize, Kolokotronis says his fallback plan is to develop the Mansion Inn as residential units.
Stay tuned to Sactownmag.com for updates on the Clarion Hotel/Mansion Inn project.