By Carlos N. Olvera
In 2015, a longtime figure in Dana Point, The Dana Point Marina Inn, formerly known as the Plantation Motel, had seen better days. As of this writing its former location, between Pacific Coast Highway and Del Prado Avenue at Ruby Lantern, has been reduced to an empty dirt lot.
The motel was completed in August 1942 and referred to as the Dana Plantation Motel. Built in a Colonial architectural style and fully furnished, its debut coincided with the opening of Camp Pendleton, prompting some to speculate it was built to serve military families.
Samuel Goldy purchased the motel in 1944 and operated it until 1948. Goldy was also the owner of the 1929-built Hotel del Camino in Laguna Beach, a hotel that exists today as the Historic La Casa del Camino.
The Plantation Motel was reportedly sold in November 1949 to T. J. Sourbier. At that time it was referred to as a 26-unit deluxe motel and claimed to have been built in 1947.
By February 1950, it was up for sale again. Advertised as one of the most outstanding and distinctive new motels on the coast, it boasted 27 units with wall-to-wall carpet, kitchens, an owner’s apartment and a prime location on the coast on Highway 101, south of Laguna. You could event get a television in the room, the ads said. No reasonable offer refused! Only $50,000 for equity.
The upcoming 1953 San Diego World’s Fair would be a boon, and I. V. Auiler of San Diego purchased the hotel.
Things must not have worked out too well. By June 1957 it was listed as a “sacrifice sale” near “new yacht harbor.” It was a foreclosure sale promising $22,000 annual income for $25,000 and assumption of payments.
The marketing strategy failed and the same ad, save for a higher income of $30,000 claimed, ran in June 1958. A souvenir matchbook at the time described the motel as “A Haven of Rest for Tourists” with deluxe cabins. “Just dial Dana Point 717” for the Avris and Pearson Plantation Motel,” the ad said.
In 1965, the structure was being advertised as the Dana Marina Inn. It was during this era that a facelift occurred. It lost its plantation look with the removal of the “widow’s walk” from the roof and the addition of a second story behind the office along Ruby Lantern. The name change has been attributed to the civil rights movement of the ’60s.
By 1975 you could say the clientele had declined a bit. An 18-year-old who escaped from the Los Pinos Boys Camp used a stolen gun to rob a man who was staying there and stole his car. Another incident occurred in 1985 when sheriff’s deputies noticed a stolen car from Texas in the parking lot. The plates of that car matched a car involved in a bank robbery several months earlier in Laguna Niguel.
The property changed hands again in 2002 and again in 2004 and again in 2007.
Police calls to the motel continued to appear often in the Sheriff’s Blotter, including an incident in 2009 when a distraught, drug-abusing guest fired a gun through the ceiling and walls of his room. Three rounds crossed Del Prado. One of the bullets pierced the window at the Timeless Teak store and was found lodged in a piece of furniture.
The motel went into foreclosure action in 2009.
Internet reviews touted the lack of heating or air conditioning and point out that references to the motel being “ADA accessible” apparently referred to the bathroom but not the front door. Little critters were often noted. The structure suffered what is known in the historic preservation world as “demolition by neglect.”
Because of its age, the building underwent a historical resource evaluation in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act by ICF International. Many of the original double hung windows had been replaced. The lobby door entry had retained its original colonial design and it was evaluated as a “stripped down” version of Colonial revival elements. The false shutters had been removed. There just wasn’t much left.
The future plans of the owners’ limited upkeep and the motel continued its rapid fall into disrepair. It was eventually overtaken by transients. As a safety hazard it was red tagged, screened off and then demolished in mid-2015. Many have complimented the improved view.
A new mixed-use development has been proposed at the site.
Carlos N. Olvera is Chair of the OC Historical Commission and a Dana Point city councilman.