By Joe Tash
ContributorThe Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, where silent-era movie icons such as Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford came to relax, and which served as the backdrop of a midnight marriage ceremony for architect Frank Lloyd Wright, may soon change ownership for the first time in 53 years.
The Royce family, which has owned the historic inn since 1958, has placed the property on the market. The sale will be handled by the Newport Beach-based CB Richard Ellis hotels group, according to Jed Stirnkorb, a senior vice president with the company.
“The Royce family has received numerous inquiries from people interested in buying The Inn,” Stirnkob wrote in an email. “Rather than having their management continually answer questions, they selected CBRE to handle all inquiries. The family would consider selling The Inn if a significant offer is made by a group that would uphold the longstanding traditions of the Covenant.”
The hotel has not been listed with a specific asking price, Stirnkorb wrote in an email. “Prospective buyers will value the property differently and we want to be open to all serious offers.”
The hotel opened in 1922 and was designed by Lilian Rice, one of San Diego’s first female architects, whose work established themes and styles that define Rancho Santa Fe to this day. The Inn sits on a 21-acre property along Linea Del Cielo at the entrance to the Rancho Santa Fe Village.
Today, The Inn has 107 guest rooms, the Fusion restaurant and bar, a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, spa, fitness center, tennis courts, a business center and meeting space, wrote Stirnkorb.
Since it was first built, The Inn has played a central role in Rancho Santa Fe’s civic, cultural and social life, said Diane Welch, an author and journalist who published an award-winning biography of Rice in 2010, called “Lilian J. Rice, Architect of Rancho Santa Fe, California.,” and has written extensively about Rancho Santa Fe’s early history.
“It’s extraordinarily important to the thread of the historic story of Rancho Santa Fe,” said Welch of The Inn.
When The Inn’s main building was completed in 1922, it had 12 guestrooms and was called simply the guesthouse, said Welch. Later, the name was changed to La Morada, which means “house of many rooms.”
During the 1920s, the Santa Fe Land Improvement Co., a subsidiary of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, marketed large lots in what is now Rancho Santa Fe as “gentleman ranchos,” to potential buyers from across the United States, said Welch.
At the time, The Inn was the place where prospective buyers stayed when they came to check out the area. Guests included Hollywood stars such as Fairbanks and Pickford, along with business tycoons.
In 1928, Frank Lloyd Wright was living in La Jolla and divorcing his wife, Miriam Noel Wright. Divorce law at that time required a waiting period of one year after a divorce before a person could remarry. Wright wanted to marry his new love, Olgivanna Lazovich, the very minute the one-year waiting period ended, said Welch.
So he arranged for a minister to come to The Inn at midnight on Aug. 25, 1928, and perform the ceremony. The couple wanted the ceremony performed by moonlight in the garden.
“There wasn’t sufficient light for me to read by so the ceremony had to be given from memory and perhaps wasn’t accurate — not a hundred percent anyway! My wife and the woman who ran the Inn served as witnesses. As soon as the ceremony was over Mr. Wright went to the telephone and called the press. Then he turned to me and said, ‘This will be on the front pages of newspapers all over the world tomorrow morning,’” wrote the Rev. Charles Leonard Knight in his biography, provided by Welch.
The Inn changed hands several times over its history, and was known in the 1930s as the Hacienda Hotel. In 1940, the Richardson family purchased the hotel, and renamed it The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. They kept the property until the Royce family bought it in 1958.
Along with The Inn and numerous homes and buildings in and around Rancho Santa Fe, Rice designed and built Wisteria Cottage on property that is now part of The Inn, said Welch, which she used as her residence. The cottage is now one of The Inn’s guest rooms.
Additional cottages were added to the property in the 1940s, Welch said.
“This was like the welcoming gateway to the Covenant,” Welch said of The Inn. “It was designed that way and it still is that way. It’s such a beautiful part of that downtown area.”