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Historic Hotel Petaluma under renovation

Like the proverbial Phoenix, the Hotel Petaluma plans to rise from its ashes as the building’s new owners plan to restore its quality of service back to its original standards.

Built in 1923, the Hotel Petaluma looked very different from the building today.

“When we look at these old pictures of the hotel, you can see the outside had this beautiful wrought-iron fence at the perimeter,” said general manager Juli Lederhaus. “It also had a cozy lobby, ballroom and an outside square, complete with a fountain. And that’s what we’re trying to bring back: this charming, historic hotel, complete with modern amenities.”

Changing owners in 2014, the only hotel in downtown Petaluma in recent years gained a reputation as a shelter for low-income and transient people. Known as a residence hotel, for a small monthly fee residents lived in a small bedroom with, oftentimes, shared or half bathrooms.

“There isn’t even a kitchen in the rooms, just a microwave,” Lederhaus said. “I can’t imagine living in a place where you can’t even cook your own food.”

Lederhaus, previously a hotel general manager from Salem, Mass., came to Petaluma to be closer to her cousin.

“I don’t like living in a big city like San Francisco,” she said. “Petaluma is the perfect place. It’s not too large, it’s charming and it’s not far away from my cousin. And as a bonus, I get to manage this truly beautiful hotel. It’s the perfect job.”

Lederhaus currently lives in the hotel while her husband sells their Massachusetts house and moves west.

CPE Construction from Galt was contracted to renovate the building, make it comply with modern fire and earthquake safety standards and restore the hotel’s aging stairwell system. The biggest change is the restoration of the main courtyard, which was re-purposed as an indoor restaurant by the Elks Club, and later Petaluma Taps.

Projected to finish by the end of the year, the newly-restored courtyard will offer a new front door to the hotel, along with a manicured garden and a fountain in the center of the square.

Right through the courtyard doors, the lobby of the Petaluma Hotel will have modern lounge seating and a wood-burning fireplace for guests. Next door, the ballroom will be re-finished and double as a dance area and conference room where local businesses can hold seminars.

The biggest overhaul to the hotel is the modern update for its rooms and stairwells. Most problematic of the two, some stairwells do not reach the ground floor of the hotel. In a fire emergency, people who use those stairs could become trapped on the second floor, endangering their lives.

CPE will complete the stairwell and add a swinging door on the second floor, where there currently is no barrier between the floor and the stairs. As a result, several rooms next to the stairwell will have their layouts changed, and a few will be removed entirely.

The rooms will receive modern upgrades to accommodate their new clientele.

“We’ve increased the thread count on all the sheets, added modern televisions and refrigerators and we’ve also renovated the bathrooms and half-baths,” Lederhaus said.

Charactaristic of European hotels, most of the small hotel rooms have half-baths with a toilet and sink. Larger rooms will feature full bathrooms with showers.

“This hasn’t been a small undertaking,” Lederhaus said. “The construction crews are working with old unreinforced walls, which they bring up to code as they go along. And even though we have all the necessary renovation and building permits, we still need to apply and register with various historical societies to ensure the preservation of the hotel’s historical value. In the 50s and through the 80s people didn’t really care about old buildings. They’d see a 50-year-old hotel and they’d do whatever they wanted to it. This is a unique opportunity to restore the lifeblood of a city: the hotel. We’re the only one here, and we have a responsibility to the city to represent the best Petaluma has to offer to travelers.”

(Contact William Rohrs at william.rohrs@arguscourier.com)

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