Salvation Army Lytton Springs center north of Healdsburg bought by Lytton Band

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The Salvation Army’s Lytton Springs rehabilitation center north of Healdsburg has been bought by an Indian tribe that shares a name and a historic connection to nearby lands.

Escrow closed Tuesday on the $30 million purchase by the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, who have used proceeds from their lucrative East Bay casino to snap up close to 3,000 acres in Sonoma County, including the latest acquisition of 564 acres.

A spokesman for the tribe said there are no specific plans for the property owned by the Salvation Army since 1904. Among the possibilities, he said, are a resort hotel, winery and vineyards, but a casino is not in the cards.

“It’s the only thing that won’t be happening out there,” said tribal attorney and spokesman Larry Stidham, who noted the Lyttons signed an agreement with Sonoma County two years ago precluding them from building a casino anywhere in the county for at least 20 more years.

Stidham said the Salvation Army property has historical significance for the tribe because its 50-acre rancheria was just to the east across the railroad tracks. It was in existence from the 1930s until 1958, when the federal government dissolved more than 40 California rancherias in a move to assimilate tribes.

“It’s an amazing turn of events for this tribe. Not long ago, they were shopping there (at the Salvation Army store) and now they own the land,” he said.

The Salvation Army last year decided to sell the property with its distinctive mission-style building adjacent to Highway 101, saying the proceeds could be used to build a larger facility in the Bay Area, perhaps consolidating it with several of its Northern California alcohol and drug rehab centers.

When the property was put up for sale in September, Salvation Army officials said it was because it was more land than they needed and the buildings are aged.

The Lytton Springs property serves as a residential center for up to 100 men, along with a thrift store and staff residences on about 6 acres of the large property.

The clients, most of whom have alcohol or drug problems, commit to a combination of work therapy, counseling, Bible study and chapel services.

With the sale of the property, the Salvation Army will be able to stay there for at least six more months in a rent-back arrangement, Stidham said.

The tribe paid more than the $24 million asking price for the Salvation Army land to outbid other potential buyers.

“They are very excited about it. They are thrilled to be the owners of the land,” Stidham said.

Eric Drew, the Healdsburg real estate agent who listed the property, said there was a full range of offers and tentative discussions about building homes, a winery or a hotel.

“Whenever you have iconic properties like this, people are interested in buying one of the best properties around,” said Drew, owner of Healdsburg’s Sotheby’s International Realty.

The county zoning on the property is primarily for agriculture and related businesses, but allows for residential development of more than 30 estate homes, he said.

The Lytton Springs property had a plush resort hotel built in 1875 and later was the site of a boys military academy and a sanatorium before later becoming a Salvation Army orphanage. The orphanage remained until the 1950s, when it became an adult rehabilitative center with thrift stores, a snack bar and a used car lot.

Drew said there are seismic and asbestos problems with the old buildings, a lack of fire sprinklers and no access for the disabled.

Stidham said the tribe will continue to evaluate water availability and quality to determine potential for new development.

When it comes to new uses, he said, “nothing is off the table. The tribe will look at what makes the most sense for them,” including whether applying to put the land into federal trust, essentially creating a reservation in which the land would no longer be subject to local land use restrictions.

But that can be a long and contentious process.

The Lyttons have had an application pending with the Bureau of Indians Affairs since 2009 to put 124 acres in Windsor into federal trust to build a community center, roundhouse retreat and 147 homes for its 280 adult tribal members and their families.

Stidham said the tribe still intends to build the Windsor project, despite persistent opposition from a segment of residents there.

Over the past dozen years, the tribe has bought more than 600 acres in the Windsor area, even a greater amount of vineyard acreage and a large swath of land on the Sonoma Coast.

The buying spree has been fueled by the tribe’s San Pablo Casino, which generates an estimated $260 million annually, according to the latest estimate by the labor union representing most of the casino employees.

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

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