The California Town Owned by a New York Investment Firm

The Scotia Lodge, formerly the Scotia Inn—a stately building with a portico and a white balcony—is the most ambitious renovation project in Scotia. The town’s sole hotel, it was built in 1925, not so much to house visitors as to provide temporary residence for new Pacific Lumber workers. During the pandemic, many Californians who might have ordinarily taken long-distance vacations travelled upstate instead, and a veteran hotel operator named Jon O’Connor saw an opportunity. He bought the lodge with his wife, Amy, and a number of staff members, and revamped the bar and the restaurant. He spruced up the front yard. The lodge now hosts weddings with some regularity. It was recently the site of a ketamine-assisted-therapy retreat.

I met O’Connor in the hotel’s lobby. He wore brown work boots and a utility jacket; he has dirty-blond hair and a faint beard. He told me that, after he and his wife bought the hotel, they heard a rumor that it was haunted. “We called a Realtor friend of ours who’s a Christian pastor,” he said. The pastor brought a few members of his congregation who’d had supernatural experiences. “They prayed and sang and all that stuff,” O’Connor said, describing the event as “a version of an exorcism.” In the end, the friend concluded that even if there were ghosts in the hotel, they did not pose a threat to visitors.

The lodge once offered a hundred small rooms. When I visited, only two of the three floors were renovated. O’Connor said that, during the previous month—March, 2023—the occupancy rate for the available rooms was a little under sixty per cent, but that it ticks up toward three-quarters full in summer. Most guests had little idea that they were staying in one of America’s last company-owned towns. “Half of the people just are coming for the redwoods,” O’Connor said. On dimly lit walls, black-and-white photos of lumber workers hung alongside a sign promoting “Proper Cannabis Delivered Daily.” At the front desk, guests could buy rolling papers for $2.75 each.

O’Connor led me downstairs, to a subterranean space that he had turned into a speakeasy-style bar, with beaded chandeliers and geometrically patterned floors. Another light fixture, behind the bar, gave the space a purple glow. I followed O’Connor to a closed-off corridor, where his team was installing a spa, featuring Himalayan-rock-salt bath crystals and a luminescent inlay. “That Bay Area tech population—we think they like these types of experiences,” he said. On my visit last spring, he told me of an ambitious plan to install a back-yard pool with a bar of the sort you might find at an Ace Hotel. But he has since scrapped his efforts to revitalize the lodge. California’s legal-cannabis market has struggled, he told me, and, because of high interest rates, he couldn’t get favorable loan terms from the bank. In Scotia, “our vision of a Napa Valley 2.0” that blended wine and cannabis experiences, he said, “didn’t really materialize.” In November, he listed the hotel for sale, for $3.3 million.

The morning after I met O’Connor, I woke up early and walked across the street to the Town of Scotia offices, as logging trucks trundled down Main Street. Most Fridays, Deike has a conference call with Joan Kramer, a former Marathon managing director who now works as an outside consultant for the fund and handles all Scotia matters. Other top Marathon executives used to make regular visits to check in on progress, but they don’t anymore. “Marathon doesn’t even ask for our financials,” Deike said. “Their auditors ask.” Kramer comes to town a few times a year, but what becomes of Scotia, in what remains of the twenty-first century, will depend on what Deike and his colleague Mary Bullwinkel can imagine for it.

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