Historic Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa slated for $20 million upgrade

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At 6:30 on Monday night, nobody was sitting at the bar inside the historic Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa. The restaurant had plenty of open tables and the lounge area around the heated pool was completely deserted. Unlike the 1960s, no Hollywood celebrities were spotted poolside.

But Stephen Yang is determined to change that. The co-founder and managing partner of Yang Capital is spearheading an effort by his San Francisco hotel management company Point Hospitality that will take over daily operations of the Flamingo and pour an estimated $20 million into renovating the once-proud property. Yang wants the pool, always the centerpiece of the property built in 1957, to be the first thing visitors see when they walk in the 170-room hotel.

“One of the major things we want to do is move the lobby entrance,” he said. “So that way when a guest is checking in they see the whole pool scene, and their blood pressure and heart rate lower.”

Yang and his partners in the venture, restaurateurs Anderson Pugash and Benson Wang, also are planning to reinvigorate the hotel’s nightlife, by adding a bar at the pool and overhauling the restaurant and nightclub.

Events will become “a much larger component” of the hotel, Yang said, and he’s aiming for “a little bit more of what they’ve got going on over at Coppola’s (the winery in Geyserville), with their pool scene.”

Pugash said, “The Sonomans that I know, so many of them talk about fond memories at the Flamingo. It’s just been a part of the cultural fabric for 60 years, and I think that’s really cool.”

Yang, who owns the Sandman Hotel in Santa Rosa, and his partners also plan to add health and wellness activities such as yoga and pilates to augment the existing 3,000-member Montecito Heights Health Club.

“We want to become a destination for the more energetic set that’s going to wine country,” Yang said. “We think there are a lot of people who are looking for a more immersive experience in wine country, than just a place to stay when you’re not drinking wine.”

The renovations will begin in early 2020, and Yang, a real estate investor specializing in hotels, is aiming to have them done by summertime. For the remainder of this year, the hotel will continue to operate as it is now.

When the renovations are done, the revamped restaurant will be another main attraction of the hotel.

Pugash and Wang are noted for their San Francisco-area restaurants Palm House and the Dorian, as well as cocktail bar Bergerac, but they both have connections to Sonoma County.

Wang grew up in Rohnert Park, where his family ran a restaurant called Confucius, and Pugash’s family owned a home in Sonoma County for 20 years while he was growing up.

Pugash said he personally has fond memories of hanging out at the Flamingo’s pool and most people he knew from Sonoma County have stories about the hotel.

“It’s this kind of a mid-century modern marvel built right in the heart of Santa Rosa,” Pugash said. “It used to be kind of a hangout for celebrities and jet-setters and then it’s been kind of a neighborhood staple for such a long time.”

The historic value of the hotel, which hosted Hollywood luminaries like Jayne Mansfield and Frankie Avalon, holds a strong appeal for Sonoma County residents and visitors alike, said Birgitt Vaughan, director of global media relations at Sonoma County Tourism.

“Longtime people living here in Sonoma County and especially in Santa Rosa, for them it really is an icon because of being open for such a long time and being an attraction in the early days for people from out of town, especially the Hollywood crowd,” Vaughan said.

The hotel was originally known as the Santa Rosa Inn and broke ground in July 1956, according to newspaper articles from the time.

It was quickly taken over by the Flamingo Motor Hotels chain.

The hotel’s final design was laid out by George Bernard Russell, the same architect responsible for the original Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.

It has been in the Ehret family since 1978, with current owner Pierre Ehret taking over in 1988.

As the hotel remakes itself, he’s retaining majority ownership of the property.

“We’re excited about this opportunity and honored to bring a fresh perspective to the property,” Pugash said.

“I love the name. I love the sign.”

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205 or at andrew.beale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @iambeale.

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