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Salvation Army holds its final sale at historic Lytton Springs property

For decades, it’s been one of the biggest emporiums for secondhand goods north of the Golden Gate, but it’s also been a place where alcoholics and drug addicts get a chance to straighten up and live productive lives.

The sale of Salvation Army’s Lytton Springs Adult Rehabilitation Center last month has prompted a massive moving sale that ends Saturday, as well as sadness among long-time customers and uncertainty for staff members who will need to find new jobs.

“What a wonderful place it has been,” said Christy Delucchi of Windsor, a retired teacher shopping with a friend Thursday.

She has patronized the Lytton Springs shops north of Healdsburg for years, discovering “treasures” among the hand-me-downs.

“I’ve found wonderful things - music boxes, things with tags and never worn,” she said, ticking off a list of other finds like upscale yard art and a coffee table for $40. “We’re going to really miss it.”

Beyond the thrift store bargains offered since the 1950s, it also has served as a place where thousands of men have completed a rigorous, six-month rehabilitation program designed to keep them clean and sober.

They work in the center’s daily operations and recycling program, and also have counseling, Bible study, anger management classes and chapel services.

Over the past year, 252 men entered the program and 33 percent completed it.

“We’re pleased with the number,” Salvation Army spokesperson Kathy Lovin wrote in an email Thursday. “That’s a lot of men returning to their families and communities, sober, healthy and ready to work.”

Normally, more than 70 men are housed at the Lytton Springs center, but it’s down to around 40 since the property was sold late last year to the Lytton Rancheria Indian tribe.

The Salvation Army, which has owned the Lytton Springs property since 1904, decided to sell the 564 acres because it was more land than it needed and the buildings were old.

It marks the end of another era for the historic property, which was the site of a plush resort built in 1875 before it became, in succession, home to a boys’ military academy, sanatorium and a Salvation Army orphanage.

It later transitioned to a rehab center with thrift stores, a snack bar and used car lot.

Salvation Army officials said the sale of the property with its distinctive Mission-style building adjacent to Highway 101 will enable them to build a larger facility in the Bay Area, perhaps consolidating it with several of their Northern California alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers.

Escrow closed last month on the $30 million acquisition of the Lytton Springs property by the Lytton Rancheria, which shares a name and historic connection to nearby lands.

Tribal spokesman Larry Stidham said there are no specific plans for the property. A casino is not in the cards, he said, but a resort hotel, winery and vineyards could be.

Zoning also allows for building more than 30 estate homes.

Long before the Salvation Army vacates by the end of April, the men enrolled in the rehabilitation programs will be transferred to Salvation Army centers in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento. Referred to as “beneficiaries,” the men will be moved by the end of next week.

One of the beneficiaries Thursday described their daily, military-style regimen at Lytton: waking bell at 5:30 a.m., breakfast at 6, start work by 6:55, an hour for lunch and a couple of 15-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. Then dinner, followed by meetings and classes.

Inscribed on the glass door to the front entrance below the dormitories that house the men is a Bible passage: “‘For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Also on the door is a decal of the Kiwanis Club, which George Clough, a member of The Salvation Army Lytton Springs advisory committee, said represents a reciprocal relationship between the local service club and Lytton Springs since 1923.

Closing the facility, Clough said, feels like “the death of a family member.”

There are 47 employees at the facility and 11 of them will continue working for the Salvation Army at other locations.

In the meantime, the 20 tons of donations processed there every week will instead go to San Francisco for sorting and distribution, according to the Salvation Army.

Employees who aren’t being retained have been given severance pay.

Thea Jackson, who ran the kitchenware section for the past two years, said she was given five weeks pay. She was busy working the cash register Thursday in the clothing store, in what used to be an old gym building, ringing up purchases for a 75 percent off sale intended to clear out merchandise.

Some of the bargain hunters have supplemented their incomes by buying the relatively cheap merchandise at Lytton Springs and reselling it at flea markets or on eBay.

Maria Ortiz of Santa Rosa has shopped there for nine years to find vintage tools, toys, sports equipment, video games, stereos or blenders she and her husband resell in Oakland or Sebastopol. She said she pays $20 to $35 for a shopping cart full of items and makes $75.

“It will affect us,” she said, explaining she will have to drive and spend more to shop at other thrift stores with fewer bargains.

“I am sad thinking ‘what are we going to do?’” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 707-521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas.

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