40 years as a hotel family
It was February 2nd, 1972 when our family moved to Fort Bragg. We came from Southern California with an over loaded, broken down trailer with all of our family’s possessions. We pulled into the Beachcomber Motel and as my Father and I walked towards the office to speak with the woman who still owned and operated it, I glanced back at the old car and leaning trailer and could hardly believe we actually made it. After 600 miles and four days of mechanical breakdowns, we were all very happy to be there.
“Are you as happy to see us as we are to see you?” Dad asked the woman.
“Not really” she replied. “I’ve decided I don’t want to sell it.”
Being barely 16 years old at the time I didn’t really understand the implications of such a statement. My Dad’s calm but straight forward response was, “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way Gladys, we have a contract and you need to honor it.” She did, and two months later on April 1, 1972 at 2 PM, we took possession and moved into the Beachcomber. The Hunt family, my Father Bob Senior, Stepmother Bonnie, her sons Bill & Mike and myself, Bob Junior, were officially in the motel business.
Gladys had completely moved out and her car was packed when we arrived that afternoon. As she passed by us on her way to her idling car she said, “All the keys are on the counter, good luck!”
There we stood, all a little dumbfounded and in shock. She left absolutely no information to anything regarding the property! Room rates, reservations, room layouts, mechanical procedures, nothing whatsoever, and we never saw her again. Five minutes later a car pulled in, a man got out and came into the office.
“How much are your rooms?” He asked. “I only need one bed.”
Without skipping a beat Bonnie said, “Seven dollars.”
“Okay that sounds fair, I’ll take it.”
As Dad searched for something to have the gentleman register and sign, Bonnie raced down the front of the building peering into each window to find a room with one bed. Thank God he had a five and two 1 dollar bills. There was no cash till and we could not have made change if we wanted to. In fact, we had no money. Believe it or not, the seven dollars is all we had. We had spent every last dime we had getting to this day. The down payment, the expense of moving, renting a place for two months waiting for escrow to close, and neither Dad nor Bonnie were working. We actually used that seven dollars to buy groceries that night and was never able to frame our first dollar doing business.
Soon after moving in we had heard that we were the latest laughingstock amongst the local realtors and other lodging owners. After all, we had just bought a 25-year-old, run down, nine unit motel, that had been on the market for three years without one single offer, for the exorbitant amount of $54,000!
The truth is, Dad had originally thought the Beachcomber would be just a stepping stone. It would keep a “roof” over our heads, bring in a few dollars while he fixed it up and ultimately sold it. Because of a friend that owned Vagabond Village, he thought the trailer park business was the way to go. None of us had any idea how well the little Beachcomber would do if we just worked it and took care of it.
As a family, we all began learning and working the business. Renting rooms, cleaning rooms, laundry, maintenance, you name it, we all did it.I remember Mike renting rooms at the early age of 8. In addition, Dad had been a carpenter all of his adult life so remodeling began immediately. Every spare dollar that came across the counter was invested back into the business in upgrades. Because of this, we soon began to compete with the other motels in the area.
Almost a year later, Dad and I were standing in the patio area on the south end of the property when the neighbor called over the fence,
“Hey Hunt, I’m gonna sell my property. You interested?”
The neighbor’s property encompassed all the land from the South end of the Beachcomber to the Pudding Creek trestle. It included a two-story home and two cabins with almost 300 feet of highway frontage.
“How much do you want for it?” Dad asked.
“$50,000” He replied.
“Hell Tom, that’s too much. That’s what I paid for this whole motel a year ago.”
That was the end of that.
Over the next few years we began converting the old car ports that each of the nine rooms had into additional rooms. We also built four new rooms from the ground up. By the end of 1976 the Beachcomber had 22 rooms and I had grown older leaving Fort Bragg to explore the world on my own.
In the summer of 1979 I stopped in to visit Dad, Bonnie, and my two younger Stepbrothers. We were standing outside in the exact same spot on the South patio when the neighbor called over the fence to us once again.
“Hey Hunt, I want to sell my property. You interested?”
It was déjà vu. Here we were, six years later, same question, same property, different neighbor.
“How much you want for it?” Dad asked…….again.
“$250,000” he replied.
“Hell Randy, that’s too much. I could have bought it for $50,000 a few years ago.”
And again, that was that.
As the years went by my younger Stepbrothers grew up and moved on with their lives and Dad & Bonnie continued running the motel. I had moved back to Fort Bragg in 1981 and opened an automotive repair shop and towing service. By the mid-80s my parents had grown tired of the motel business and wanted to retire. In August of 1986 Dad came down to the shop to visit one afternoon. Out of the blue he says,
“Bonnie and I have decided we want to sell the motel. You’re the only one out of all the kids that has showed any real interest in it and we were wondering if you wanted it?”
“Jeez Dad, I haven’t been around the motel for over 10 years. Let me think about it.”
“Well, you better think fast.” He says. “We want to list it tomorrow. Maybe you should come over for dinner tonight.”
By the end of that dinner we had made a deal. I agreed to pay them fair market value for the motel and they agreed to carry the loan at the going interest rate and give me time to sell some stuff and rake up the down payment. On September 8, 1986 the Beachcomber Motel officially became mine, allowing my parents to retire and live full-time in Clearlake.
The remodel we had done in the early 70’s was now 15 years old so I immediately began the task again of renovating the entire property. I built a huge deck on the North end and installed sliding glass doors in all the rooms to access it. I installed tile and wallpaper throughout the property and also replaced the front wall with brick planters. By the end of 1989 the remodel was almost complete and the Beachcomber had doubled its sales since I bought it. Although 1989 was a great year for the business and a wonderful year for me personally when I married my new wife Cyndi, it ended tragically for our family with the loss of our father in December.
After his death trying to finish that remodel was next to impossible. Scratching around inside those rooms painting, setting tile, or laying carpet seemed to make no sense at all. I found myself welled up with tears many times wondering why I was there, why I was doing it and what it was all for. Ultimately, I wound up finding comfort in the fact that everything I looked at or touched at the Beachcomber represented my Dad and brought me closer to him and his memory. It still does.
Over the next few years, Cyndi and I lived in and ran the motel. I had been trying to figure out a way to expand and add rooms. We eventually removed the roof over the center portion of the motel and added a second story. By the end of 1993 the Beachcomber had 27 rooms including 5 second story suites.
On September 8, 1996, ten years to the day since I bought the Beachcomber, my oldest sister Pamela became a partner as well as the General Manager. This new partnership was the best thing I could have done for the Beachcomber as well as myself. Her hands on involvement since that day, has brought the family feeling back to “Dad’s” Beachcomber.
In the summer of 1997, Cyndi and I decided to go our separate ways. We had two beautiful daughters by then and both had been part of the Beachcomber since they could walk. They stripped rooms, greeted guests but their favorite job was driving the laundry cart! It was a warm afternoon in August of that same year when I heard those words once again. I was standing on the South patio in the same exact place I had stood two times before with Dad.
“Hey Bob, I’m selling my property. You interested?”
I couldn’t believe it. Almost the exact same words verbatim. Three times in a row, three different neighbors, over 24 years.
“Yes I am John.”
The price and details didn’t matter at that moment. What mattered was, I didn’t want to hear those words from a fourth neighbor in the future. Having the fortunate capability to look back, I was certain my Dad had made a mistake twice before by not buying the only piece of property that could have expanded the Beachcomber. I did not want to look back 10 years later and have that regret a third time.
In September 1998 we demolished the home and two cabins on the property next door and began construction of the new addition, south all the way to the Trestle. In June of 1999 the Beachcomber opened its new lobby and 45 additional rooms to the public. It now had 71 rooms and almost 800 feet of ocean view frontage. With that addition, the Beachcomber became the largest beachfront property on the coast.
In 2010 the Beachcomber went through yet another complete renovation. We also lost our dear Stepmother, Bonnie. Before she passed, many times she would tell me how proud she was and how she knew Dad would have been, of what Pam and I had done with the Beachcomber. Knowing how much Dad and her loved the Beachcomber, and what a big part of their lives it had been, I have no doubt she was right.
As I write this, it’s hard to believe it was 40 years ago that I stepped into the Beachcomber as a young 16-year-old boy. I can say with absolute certainty that no one ever knew how good the Beachcomber would be to the Hunt family. Looking back over the years, I realize it has given us lasting memories and supported us for three generations through some of the toughest of times. No one, not even Dad or Bonnie would have guessed that. So much has happened since that day in February 1972. So many people have come and gone. We have lost the original two “Beachcombers” but have been blessed with two new ones in my daughters, Morgan & Mallory. We’ve also enjoyed some of the best employees anyone could ask for. Some, for many, many, years.
There are countless memories I have of the Beachcomber. However, the ones that stand out are the early ones. The one’s where my Dad, Bonnie and all of us as a young family struggled to make something special out of a rundown small motel. It has taken a family effort for over 40 years but looks like we did it. I can only hope that the next generation of “Beachcombers” feel the heritage that our family has in the Beachcomber, and want to make the next 40 years as special to them, as the first 40 years has been to us.
Written March 2012
In early 2011 our dear friends Charlie & Lynn Bell who owned and operated the Surf & Sand Lodge next door were hit by the worst of times. With Charlie’s passing the year before, Lynn found herself unable to run and care for the property by herself. The recession eventually took its toll and Lynn had to hand the property back to the bank.
In May of 2011 the bank contacted us and we negotiated a deal that worked for all parties. In August the Surf & Sand Lodge became the “Sister” property of the Beachcomber. With its different boutique feel, private decks and balconies, it has become a great addition to the “Beachcomber Family”. We renovated the entire property 2yrs later in April of 2013 and now honestly feel it is the finest lodging accommodation on the coast, bar none.
In October of 2013, another North Coast property was added to the Beachcomber family, “The Beach House Inn”. With its similar design to the Surf & Sand Lodge and close proximity to its “Bigger Sisters”, we are excited to see what the future holds for this great property! With this latest addition, the Beachcomber family now has 133 rooms on the North Coast!
Thank you all for being a part of “our” family.
Bob Hunt & Pamela Amante