Santa Rosa’s Astro Motel opens for guests

'It was a pay-by-the-hour type thing. A dump,' said Burbank Gardens neighbor Judy Kennedy. 'Now, we're looking at a really high-end beautiful remodel geared toward cyclists. This is a big step forward.' Take a look around.|

Cyclists in bright spandex lounged Thursday on 1960s-era furniture at Santa Rosa’s rebuilt Astro Motel, once a crime-infested fleabag transformed into a gleaming, midcentury modern masterpiece that promises to revitalize a seedy section of downtown.

Owners of the unabashedly retro, 34-room lodge sunk $10 million into buying it, fixing it up and filling it with Space Age pieces such as Eames chairs, swag lamps and a 1-ton telephone switchboard that had to be carried in by crane.

At the same time, the Astro appeals to today’s cyclists, offering a “bike lounge” where guests can use hotel-provided tools to fix tires or adjust gears, along with a fleet of high-end loaner bikes for those who want to pedal to nearby restaurants or bars.

On Thursday, the Astro celebrated its grand opening, although its first guests arrived in October, just after the devastating North Bay fires.

To mark the occasion, former professional cyclist and Astro co-owner, Andy Hampsten, led a group on a 38-mile trek into the west county.

“I love it,” Hampsten said. “It’s right in the city. Trails are near here. The Astro could become a biking mecca.”

Burbank Gardens neighborhood residents who for years have been pushing the city to clean up the stretch of Santa Rosa Avenue welcomed the renovation. It comes on the heels of the reopening of the newly rejoined Old Courthouse Square, and is part of what is hoped will be a revival of Santa Rosa’s old downtown.

Neighbor Judy Kennedy said the new Astro will complement the emerging arts district around Juilliard Park. Before it was rebuilt, the motel had become a magnet for drug dealers and prostitutes.

“It was a pay-by-the-hour type thing. A dump,” Kennedy said. “Now, we’re looking at a really high-end beautiful remodel geared toward cyclists. This is a big step forward.”

The project is the brainchild of the creators of The Spinster Sisters restaurant, located a block away. The team, including chef and co-owner Liza Hinman, investor Eric Anderson and Hampsten, bought the 55-year-old motel after it closed in 2016.

Contractors tore it apart, gutting one wing riddled with termites. Carpets were stripped from the old concrete floors, which were later polished to a high shine.

The rooms were loaded with period-correct furniture gleaned from auctions nationwide. Guests who like what they see have the option of buying it from the motel upon checkout.

However, not all is new. So much is custom, built by local artisans.

The headboards are all salvaged wood slabs. Another craftsman cast the concrete sinks. The linens are handmade.

Out front, another local artisan built the iconic rocket sign lit by LEDs that appears ready for liftoff with a little spinning satellite on the top. The same designer also created the motel’s metal balcony rails with a jet-machined latticework design reminiscent of a 1960s circuit board.

Hinman and her team won permission from the city to turn the big ugly parking lot into a little urban oasis with a dozen fruit trees, including three mature olive trees, which Spinster Sisters eventually will harvest for olive oil.

With rates starting at $160 a night, the motel is positioning itself to be more affordable than many others appealing to North Coast tourists. In the wake of fires that displaced thousands, the owners took in people carrying federal emergency relief vouchers.

“This place had been a cancer on an otherwise interesting neighborhood,” motel spokeswoman Lizzie Simon said. “I hope it will give it a lift.”

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