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Dusting off, historic Lake County resort seeks comeback


COBB — A historic Lake County resort that through a dozen decades has hosted families, movie stars and spiritual seekers is beginning a new chapter under owners who aim to restore the sprawling, ramshackle compound 100 miles north of San Francisco to its former glory and then some.

If successfully resurrected, Hoberg’s Resort and Spa could bring a much-needed economic infusion to Lake County, which continues to suffer financially from high unemployment — 9.7 percent in July — and the 2009 closure of the Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa, once the North Coast’s largest concert venue.

“It would definitely pick up the slack,” said Lake County Supervisor Anthony Farrington, who, along with other county officials Thursday, toured the 55-acre wooded property high on Cobb Mountain as an army of workers prepared for this weekend’s kickoff event, two days of music commemorating the 1960s.

Saturday’s concert, billed as a 45th anniversary celebration of Woodstock, features acts including Canned Heat, Jefferson Starship and Country Joe McDonald. Sunday’s “Summer of Love” concert features Elvin Bishop, Lydia Pense, Cold Blood and It’s a Beautiful Day.

Workers were scrambling Thursday to complete work on 15 rooms already booked by guests for the event.

In addition to rehabilitating and enhancing many of the original facilities, which included a lodge, ballroom, dining hall, swimming pool and more than 100 tiny cabins and clustered rooms, Lake County Partners LLC plans eventually to add time-share condominiums to the mix at the resort, said Dan Nelson, who is overseeing the site’s rehabilitation and upcoming music events. He also masterminded the project and facilitated Lake County Partners’ purchase of property in April for $1.2 million.

The former owners, Cobb Mountain Partners — Nelson’s prior employer — purchased the property in 2010 for $2 million, according to county records. The company sold amid debt and legal problems linked to its rehabilitation of the site.

“The key issue was it was underfunded,” said Nelson, who continues to be personally entangled in lawsuits connected to previous work on the property and has been charged by the Lake County District Attorney for allegedly exposing workers to asbestos and not providing workers’ compensation benefits. The case is scheduled for trial later this month.

The first phase of the current rehabilitation project, to be completed this year, includes the 15 rooms adjacent to the lodge; remodeling of other buildings for a spa, wine tasting facility, deli and office; and construction of the new outdoor stage. That phase is expected to cost about $2 million, Nelson said.

The second phase — which will include rehabilitation of the 55,000-square-foot lodge, its dining room and ballroom, and other buildings — will cost more than $10 million, he said.

With most of the structures uninhabitable, there’s a lot of work to do.

“It’s pretty beat up,” Nelson said.

Lake County Partners has the funding for the first two phases, he said. The partnership includes Silvester Rabic, a Bay Area real estate developer and partner in a mortgage company, and Frank Sasselli, a communications entrepreneur.

The company plans to bring in a management team, and it has enlisted a group of celebrity advisers who have filmed commercials for the resort. They include actor Lorenzo Lamas, who starred in the soap opera “Falcon Crest,” as well as baseball player Jose Canseco and actor Ernie Hudson of “Ghostbusters” fame.

Sandy Hoberg Fox, whose great-great-grandfather, Gustav Hoberg, built and expanded the resort over the decades from its humble beginnings as a hotel in the 1880s, has been watching the work in progress with interest and hope.

“We are so thrilled,” said Fox, who from 1984 until 2011 lived in a house in the middle of the resort property and now resides just up the hill. As a result, she witnessed firsthand the decline of the resort’s facilities under the ownership of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru to the Beatles, who popularized transcendental meditation.

“It was awful,” Fox said.

The Maharishi bought the property from the Hoberg family in 1974 and it was put up for sale following his death in 2008, according to Fox and a history of the resort prepared by the current owners.

As a girl, Fox lived across the street from the resort, and it was her de facto playground. There was horseback riding, swimming, tennis, bowling, shuffleboard, movies and talent shows.

The movie “Dirty Dancing” “really typifies what it was like — the silly talent shows, a family place. It was a whole other world,” she said.

The evenings she spent watching elegant people dancing to live orchestra music made a lasting impression, Fox said.

“To me romance is a live orchestra, a strapless dress and Chinese lanterns strung between lamp poles,” she said.

A generation before, the resort was even more glamorous and was frequented by the rich and famous, including movie stars such as Clark Gable.

Lake County officials will be happy if the resort becomes any kind of tourist draw.

The county since 2009 has seen the tax it collects annually from hotels drop from about $900,000 to $500,000, a 44 percent decline, said Lake County Administrator Matt Perry, who attributes the decline to a combination of hotel closures and the recession’s dimming area tourism.

County officials don’t expect Hoberg’s to match Konocti, which had a 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheater and 1,000-seat indoor concert hall. At its peak, Konocti employed nearly 700 people, most of them part time.

“This is a lot smaller and more intimate,” Supervisor Farrington said of Hoberg’s.

Hoberg’s concert venue can accommodate about 3,000 people, Nelson said. It’s expected to create about 400 new jobs when the resort portion is completed, he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.