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Hotels In Hiatus

Montecito's Miramar
Edhat compilation of history and news coverage
by Leah Etling

According to Rick Caruso's Vice President of Government Relations, Matt Middlebrook, you can now be the proud owner of your very own Miramar cottage - for free - if you mitigate the hazardous materials and have it moved at your own expense.

The chance to preserve a bit of coastal California history may just launch those cottages off down the highway. Everyone has great memories of the Miramar.

Whether you stayed for a weekend, had a honeymoon or just went to the beach and ate in the railroad car afterwards, it's safe to say that the Miramar experience was a memorable one for over 100 years.

According to David Myrick's, "Montecito and Santa Barbara - Volume 1", the original property owners of the Miramar site bought 50 acres 1858 from the Community Council of Santa Barbara for $40. What a deal!

The hotel became a resort gradually when it was under the ownership of the Doulton family, English natives who maintained the resort for three generations (incidentally, they also owned Cold Springs Tavern on San Marcos Pass until 1941).

It's not known how much the Doultons paid for their portion when they purchased the site, but they started bringing in guests around 1887, Myrick writes. The railroad had just established a route in the front yard of what was then known as Ocean View Farm, and the Southern Pacific train stopped there starting in 1892. Train fare from Santa Barbara was 10 cents.

The Doultons developed the resort from the ground up, taking special pride in their gardens and adapting to guest demands. Four cottages were added in 1901, at the cost of $4,500. There was a wharf where boats could dock, and a small golf course. Traveling salesmen sold shoes and suits at the hotel. After the end of Prohibition, one of the cottages was converted into a bar.

Boom times kept up until the 1930s, when many of the traditional clientele were hit hard financially. And at the same time, the Miramar's classic white sand beach began to disappear. The sand movement was the result of the building of the city breakwater, which was completed in 1930.

The Doultons took the city to court over the loss of the beach, which resembles historic Waikiki in early photographs, but they lost the lawsuit. The hotel was foreclosed in 1939, and picked up by a man named Paul Gawzner, an experienced hotelier according to the Montecito Journal.

Gawzner made improvements, adding 150 more rooms in hotel-style buildings and cottages, an auditorium and the famous two railroad cars as a dining spot. Essentially, he created the Miramar that is remembered by everyone who went there over the last 59 years.

Ian Schrager purchased the Miramar from Gawzner in 1998 for $31.7 million, closed it in 2000, had serious financial problems in 2003, and went into bankruptcy protection.

Beanie Baby billionaire and Montecito mogul, Ty Warner bought the Miramar from Schrager as part of his spree of local property acquisitions in the late 1990s and early 2000s (he also picked up the San Ysidro Ranch, the Biltmore, San Marcos Golf Club, Coral Casino, Sandpiper, his own mansion near the Santa Barbara Cemetery, and the Montecito Country Club). Despite plans for a 213-room family-style resort, Warner sold the property and project to Los Angeles developer, Rick Caruso in 2006. He is thought to have made a healthy profit over the $43 million he paid.

Caruso, the developer of several major Southern California shopping malls, came into the community on a mission to overcome concerns, and charm his way into the hearts and minds of Montecito neighbors. He succeeded in getting many on his team.

A few, however, were not impressed. The project suffered some setbacks, including controversy over questionable emails before it was finally approved.

The project was approved by the Montecito Planning Commission, then appealed by the Citizens Planning Association. The appeal was subsequently denied by the County Board of Supervisors. After overcoming that hurdle, the project was hit with an appeal by Jean and Stan Harfenist and other neighbors, who expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of the project in a lawsuit and appeals to the Coastal Commission. The appeal was resolved in April 2009.

Here is the project description in the words of the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department: "All new buildings of approximately 385,296 gross (164,849 net) square feet, including a main building with a lobby, meeting rooms and conference facilities, back-of-house areas, and underground parking; a ballroom; a spa, a Beach and Tennis Club; 192 guest rooms; two restaurants and a beach bar; two pools and two tennis courts; new landscaping; new 10-foot high sound wall; four employee dwellings; and abandonment of the north-south segment of Miramar Avenue with approximately 36,300 cubic yards of cut and 46,100 cubic yard of fill with 10,000 cubic yards to be imported. All existing buildings would be demolished."

Here is the link to all county documentation available on the Miramar project.

Contacted for an update on the status of the renovations on Sept. 16, 2009, Middlebrook wrote:

"The Miramar project is moving forward. We are in the process of completing the required historic documentation of the buildings which was required as part of our approvals. We will be submitting the package to the County for review within the next 30 days. We have also notified the community as we are required that any of the cottages are available for people to take if they want them.

"There is no charge for the cottages, but anyone taking a cottage will have to mitigate any hazardous materials in the buildings (i.e. lead paint) before they are removed. They will also have to pay for the cost of moving them. We are working through that process with a number of interested parties and will complete that process by the end of the year. Those are the two critical steps prior to demolition of the buildings.

"We hope to demolish the buildings during the beginning of next year. It is our hope to begin grading the site in preparation for construction in the later part of 2010."

Middlebrook said that realistically, the hotel could open in late 2012.

If you want to take one of the Miramar cottages home with you, you can contact Caruso Affiliated through their website.

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