Aetna Springs to close
Historic resort to be shuttered in wake of Lake Luciana vote
June 10th, 2009
June 9th, 2009
June 3rd, 2009
May 31st, 2009
May 27th, 2009
The historic Aetna Springs Resort in Pope Valley will close its doors Saturday, just days after county officials rejected plans for a nearby golf course owned by the same developers.
Robert Radovan — developer for both projects, as well as the Calistoga Ranch resort in Napa Valley — said the decision to close Aetna Springs stems directly from the Napa County Board of Supervisors’ decision last week to reject the proposed Lake Luciana golf course.
Supervisors voted 3-2 against Lake Luciana, which would have featured an 18-hole championship golf course, restaurant, swimming pools and 17 luxury home sites in Pope Valley. The majority of supervisors said that recreational use on agricultural land is inconsistent with the county’s General Plan and zoning ordinances.
“We have largely the same group of investors in Calistoga Ranch, Lake Luciana and Aetna Springs, and after the outcome of the (Lake Luciana) process, they were unbelievably disappointed,” Radovan said.
Developers have always insisted that Aetna Springs and Lake Luciana are separate projects, but Radovan said supervisors’ decision to reject Lake Luciana scared off investors for Aetna Springs, where only one phase of renovation was completed out of several that were in the works. Developers for Aetna Springs, which features a nine-hole golf course, had also hoped to restore the resort’s historic buildings.
“The current board doesn’t seem to want to comply with the General Plan and their own zoning ordinances,” Radovan said. “(Investors) simply don’t have the stomach to go through that again.”
Supervisor Diane Dillon, who lamented the news that Aetna Springs will close, stood behind her decision to vote against Lake Luciana.
“In my opinion, I voted the way I had to,” she said.
Radovan said Aetna Springs will lay off its operational staff, though he declined to state how many people will lose their jobs. He acknowledged that Aetna Springs has not been financially solvent, but did not offer specifics.
Radovan said he is unsure what will happen to the property, saying there is “potential” the current owners might seek to sell the site.
If Radovan and his partners fight the supervisors’ decision to reject Lake Luciana, as they have said they might, Radovan said there could still be hope for Aetna Springs.
“It will certainly bring the confidence back to everybody,” he said, adding that he and his business partner William Criswell “still really want to go forward with both projects, and are just evaluating all of our options at this point.”
Aetna Springs is on the National Register of Historic Places and first welcomed visitors to its mineral springs in the late 1800s. Several historic structures near the springs are in the Arts and Crafts style, and noted architect Bernard Maybeck is believed to have designed at least one of the buildings. The nine-hole golf course was built in 1890.
For decades, the resort attracted visitors from around the region, as well as Hollywood celebrities and other notables. In 1966, Ronald Reagan chose Aetna Springs as the site where he announced his candidacy for governor.
In 1973, a firm called the ESI group bought the site and hoped to build 900 condominiums, but the county rejected that plan. Three years later, a business with ties to Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church acquired the resort and used it for religious retreats. It was rarely visited by the public thereafter, and in 1999 Pope Valley resident Bryant Morris leased the property. He sought to renovate Aetna Springs, but his plans ran afoul of county regulations. Morris placed a measure before county voters seeking the right to redevelop the resort, but lost handily at the polls.
Morris subsequently bought the property anyway, but was never able to get the business going. Current owners William Criswell and Radovan bought the property in 2006, preparing sites for homes, renovating the golf course and building a new clubhouse overlooking the course and mineral springs.
Register Editor Bill Kisliuk contributed to this story.
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