Salvation Army’s historic Lytton Springs property on the market for $24 million

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The Salvation Army’s Lytton Springs rehabilitation center north of Healdsburg, with its mission-style building and surrounding 564 acres, is for sale, potentially ending a more than century-old ownership and opening up new uses for the prominent site adjoining Highway 101.

The Salvation Army, which has owned the property since 1904, has decided to sell and relocate the alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility. The asking price is $24 million.

The county zoning on the property is primarily for agriculture and related businesses, allowing for some residential development and leaving open an array of possibilities for a buyer.

“What actually happens depends on the action of the marketplace,” said Eric Drew, the Healdsburg real estate agent listing the property.

“It’s got a great location. It’s 70 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, right next to Healdsburg,” said Drew, owner of Healdsburg Sotheby’s International Realty. “It’s aesthetically beautiful and has some very good things going for it.”

Salvation Army officials said the buildings are aged and there is more land than they need at Lytton Springs.

“It’s our largest piece of property for an adult rehabilitation program,” said Major Evelyn Chavez, the Salvation Army property manager who oversees 24 centers in 13 western states. Of the more than 500 acres at Lytton, she said, “we use about six. To hang on to lots of property is not to make the best use (of it),” she said.

Chavez said the charity wants to use the proceeds from the sale to build a larger facility in the Bay Area, perhaps consolidating it with several of its other Northern California rehab centers,

Lytton Springs has a residential center for up to 100 men, with a thrift store and staff residences.

The clients, most of whom have alcohol or other drug problems, commit to the six-month program with a combination of work therapy — helping in the daily operations of the center and the store recycling program — along with counseling, Bible study, anger management classes and chapel services.

“They also learn how to have fun again without resorting to alcohol or other illegal substances,” according to the Salvation Army’s website.

It isn’t the first time the property has been on the market. In 2003, the Salvation Army put 500 acres up for sale, for just under $14 million, but excluded the existing buildings and improvements.

“We had buyers last time around,” Drew said. “For a variety of reasons, nothing worked.”

This time, the Salvation Army wants to sell all its holdings as one. In addition to the buildings, it includes a 27-acre lake, rolling oak woodlands and grasslands.

Drew said the zoning allows for 20 to 35 homes to be built on the land, depending on percolation tests and other conditions.

But the agricultural designation means there could be vineyards planted and a tasting room built.

“Your buyer is probably a winery looking for a profile location and accessibility off Highway 101,” said Jeff Schween, a Pacific Union broker who writes a real estate column for The Press Democrat and other publications. “It could be someone who wants to turn it into a quasi-country estate.”

“The players are the wine industry, entertainment related, or a gentleman farmer,” he said of the scope of potential buyers.

Other possibilities are some sort of cannabis growing or processing, Schween said, given the likelihood that voters will approve adult use of marijuana in November and some large corporations are looking to cash in on legalization.

Drew downplayed that possibility, saying “there are probably a lot better places for that and I won’t be marketing for that.”

The Lytton property has been through a number of incarnations and has a long and interesting history.

The original owner of the property, sea captain William Litton, built a plush resort hotel there in 1875, which had its own railroad stop. It was named after the mineral springs on the property, but a misspelling on maps later changed Litton’s name to “Lytton.”

At one point it was also the site for a boys military academy and a sanatorium before being purchased in 1904 and established as a Salvation Army orphanage dubbed the “Boys and Girls Industrial Home and Farm.”

The former resort building burned in 1919 but was restored, according to information provided by the Sonoma County history and genealogy library.

The Salvation Army operated its orphanage there until the 1950s, when it became an adult rehabilitative center with thrift stores, snack bar and a used car lot.

The property also lent its name to Native Americans who lived in the area and became known as the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians. Schween suggested an Indian tribe might also be a potential buyer of Lytton Springs.

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