Madrona Manor in Healdsburg gets new owner and new look
The Madrona Manor, a storied Healdsburg inn with a Michelin-starred restaurant, has been purchased by an investment group headed by a San Francisco-based designer who plans to give the 19th century belle a bold new look.
“We want to make it stylish and sexy and different from your usual Wine Country property,” said designer Jay Jeffers, a general partner in the project along with his brother Kyle Jeffers, who specializes in real estate financing for hotels. Branding and marketing expert Cory Schisler will be a third general partner.
The three are part of a group of more than 20 people, most with ties to the Healdsburg and Wine Country area, who bought the Dry Creek Valley mansion and 8-acre estate for $8.6 million from Trudi and Bill Konrad. It originally went on the market last year for $11 million.
The Konrads bought the property in 1999 and transformed it into a popular destination for weddings, romantic getaways and fine dining. Executive Chef Jesse Mallgren, who for more than a decade has won a coveted Michelin Guide star for the restaurant, will remain on as the restaurant is refreshed with a new concept and menu, Jeffers said.
The last few years have been rough on the Sonoma County hospitality industry, with repeated wildfires and then the COVID-19 pandemic driving away visitors. But Jeffers said he believes the hotel, which remained open on a limited basis during the pandemic, was foundering before COVID-19 and is due for an update.
The changes, expected to be complete in time for the fall harvest, pending the approval of permits, will be mostly cosmetic.
“It’s going to be a little bit more modern. We’ll be simplifying the design,” Jeffers said. The hotel currently has a distinct Victorian flavor; for years the Konrads hosted Dickens Dinners at Christmas and lavishly decked the old walls with trees and toys.
The remodeled inn will be renamed simply The Madrona. All 22 guest rooms will get a face-lift. Jeffers said he also hopes to restore the full wraparound porch that had originally encircled the building and turn an outbuilding into a fitness room.
The white-tablecloth restaurant, which really put the inn on the radar of discriminating diners, will become a little more casual, Jeffers said, with more shareable dishes.
“It will be more all-occasion rather than special occasion dining, which is what it was before,” he said.
Jeffers said the new look will be more contemporary but will include a nod to the old, with select pieces that have stayed with the house for generations incorporated into each room.
“Actually, there are between 15 and 20 pieces that are original to the original owners,” he said. He has an old photo from the early 1900s that shows an elaborately carved cabinet that is still in the house.
Jeffers is taking his design inspiration from the late 19th century “Aesthetic Movement,” which was dedicated to beauty for beauty’s sake and combines intellectualism with the exotic.
The 16,000-square-foot gabled mansion was built in 1881 for John Alexander Paxton, an entrepreneur with a hand in everything from mining and banking to lumber and promoting the state’s fledgling wine industry. He called it Madrona Knoll Rancho. It eventually passed to his son Blitz, who subdivided the land and used the home as a weekend retreat until he sold it in 1913. It remained a private home until John Harry Muir bought it in 1981 and turned it into a country inn.
The mansion was placed on The National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s.
Madrona Manor is such a well-known symbol of Sonoma hospitality that people in the tourism industry are happy to see it remain.
“We love Madrona Manor,” said Birgitt Vaughan, director of global media relations for Sonoma County Tourism. “For so many years it has been such a landmark for tourism here, not only because of the look but because of the specialty of the food and beverage of Chef Jesse.”
Jeffers, who lives in St. Helena, said he learned the hotel was on the market last year Memorial Day weekend when a friend in real estate told him to go check it out.
“When I first went through the arch and drove up to the hotel, it just spoke to me. I couldn’t get it out of my head,” he said.
The sale was complicated, with a multitude of issues to be ironed out, including a well and various easements.
Award-winning director and vintner Francis Ford Coppola expressed serious interest in buying Madrona Manor in 2006, but the negotiations feel through.
The renamed Madrona will be managed by Mosaic Hotel Group, a collection of individually branded, modern boutique hotels operating under the umbrella of Palisades Hospitality Group. Mosaics properties include the North Block Hotel in Yountville and El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen on the Sonoma Plaza.
Staff Writer Meg McConahey can be reached at email@example.com.
Features, The Press Democrat
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