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New beginning for historic hotel

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 1:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 10:10 a.m.

A historic Petaluma hotel is once again renting rooms on a nightly basis after decades of providing low-rent housing to long-term tenants.

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john o'hara/for the argus-courier The historic Hotel Petaluma at the corner of Kentucky and Washington Streets is shifting from long-term tenants to a traditional hotel.

John O'Hara/ For the Argus-Courier

It's welcome news to some who are glad to see the hotel return to its original purpose and provide needed hotel rooms downtown. To others, namely some of the tenants who have lived there for months or years and are now struggling to find an equally affordable place to live in Petaluma, it's an upsetting surprise.

Once the “Grand Dame” of lodging in Petaluma in the early 1900s, the Hotel Petaluma still presides over the historic downtown district at the corner of Washington and Kentucky streets. Though its period details remained largely intact, the building for many years became more of a rooming house for long-term tenants, many of them low-income, than a commercial hotel. The property declined and went into foreclosure in 2011 after being purchased just four years earlier by a Marin County investor. It was purchased by Terence Andrews in October, 2012.

This week, a bevy of painters, carpenters and craftsmen continued work to restore and upgrade the interior. The exterior has been given a facelift. As the work progresses, the hotel is also shifting from long-term, lease-based tenancy back to operating as a commercial hotel.

Andrews spoke enthusiastically about the hotel renovations. “We are making a major investment in bringing back the authentic character it had when it was built in 1923,” he said.

The newly renovated and fully furnished rooms are now available on a daily or extended stay basis. However, the tenants that have been living there must make major life changes as a result.

Ben Duncan, one of about 100 current residents, is employed in Petaluma as a salesperson. “I signed a new agreement in October and increased my security deposit and agreed to a rent increase and moved to allow the management to work on the room,” he said on Tuesday. “I assumed I had met the requirements to stay when all of a sudden, on Friday, Feb. 15, we were given a 30-day notice to vacate.”

Some longer-term residents were given until April 15.

Duncan is not able to find local housing he can afford, so is moving to Santa Rosa to share a place with friends. “It was very upsetting,” he said. “I am able to make the move, but many of the other people here have no real resources or places to go.”

Jessica Andrews, Terrence Andrews' daughter, is in charge of marketing and sales for the hotel, as well as helping oversee the upgrades and renovation. She says that the hotel is providing a list of agencies, resources and contact information on low-income alternatives for the tenants. Current residents may return and rent the hotel rooms if they can, or are willing to, pay the market rates. “The difference is,” explains Jessica Andrews, “there will be no leases. People will pay for the time of their stay, just as in any hotel.”

The new rates will range from $65 to $90 a night. In the past, small rooms with no kitchens and shared bathrooms rented for as low as just a few hundred a month, going up to about $800 a month.

Lois Simonetti is one of the hotel's new residents — she moved into the hotel on Feb. 1 and plans to stay. She has an outside room that has been completely redone, with a full bathroom, a flatscreen TV and WiFi. When asked why she chose the Hotel Petaluma, the spry 84-year-old says, “I feel safe here.” Simonetti lived in Petaluma with her late husband, “My husband brought me here 52 years ago,” she smiles. “I always liked it and when I got a chance to return, I came back.” She also likes the fact that she doesn't need a car and can walk to everything.

Leaving the hotel, she bumps into another resident, Thomas Penders who, it turns out, knows Simonetti's daughter. “Noreen told me to keep an eye on you,” he chuckles. A native of the Netherlands, Penders teaches piano and is a piano tuner. A divorce and other circumstances led to his renting a room at the hotel. “I moved in August of 2012, and I asked myself, 'What rough gorillas own this place?'”

Soon after, Andrews purchased the hotel and began the renovation. “Now I love it,” says Penders. “It's clean and professionally managed.” Penders hopes to be able to continue his stay at the hotel.

(Contact Dyann Espinosa at argus@arguscourier.com.)

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