A full-size basketball court. Small classrooms that overlook a grassy courtyard. A fireplace in the reading room. Parking for 60 cars. How New West came to lease the former site of the Santa Ynez Inn is through ‘sheer persistence,’ chairman David Eagle told the Palisadian-Post. As he walked the property last week, he commented on the ‘wonderfully overgrown’ foliage, including the magenta bougainvillea growing over the wobbly chain-link fences surrounding the property, the bird-of-paradise that obviously need to be trimmed, and the bright red trumpet vines cascading over the leaky roof of the old inn, which ‘is one of the things that definitely needs to be replaced,’ said Eagle. Located on 1.5 acres of prime Palisades real estate on Sunset across from Los Liones, the school, which has a 10-year lease on the property, plans to completely rehabilitate both the grounds and the now-dilapitated facility. The former Santa Ynez property is estimated to be worth ‘about $10 million,’ said Coldwell Banker commercial broker Gregg Pawlik. ‘And that’s just for the land.’ The inn was built in 1946 as a hotel with 24 guest rooms. It had a swimming pool, a dining room (‘Fireside Grill’), and one of the two liquor licenses in town. It was designed by architect Alfred T. Gilman (‘Hap’), its simple ranch-style design reflected in the beamed ceilings, brick floors and rooms which all open out to a central courtyard. ‘It was the perfect weekend getaway,’ said Stuart Gilman, who visited the inn often with his father. ‘The place was very rustic and comfortable inside’ Local realtor Peter Fleming remembers it as a ‘wonderful roadside inn, a great place to drop by. It was so lovely, in fact, that it looked like something right out of a movie set.’ Palisades historian Randy Young loved the ambiance. ‘It had such warmth and charm. I remember eating steaks in the dining room. It was the place to be.’ Santa Monica Canyon resident, Joan Graves, and her actor-husband, Peter, also have fond memories. ‘As the inn had one of the few really good restaurants in the Palisades at the time, Peter and I went there often, especially for Sunday brunch. I remember one time a movie star magazine did a celebrity photo shoot of us there, romping around in the pool. We were sad when it closed down.’ After 30 years in operation the inn was sold in 1976 to the World Plan Executive Council, better known as TM (Transcendental Meditation), which used the facility for meetings and retreats. In 1989 it was sold to its current owners, the Self Realization Fellowship, which now owns a total of 15 acres on Sunset, including the nearby Lake Shrine. With the inn vacant for over a decade, the church has received many offers to develop the site, mainly for commercial use, such as condos and strip malls, ‘but we always told people we weren’t interested,’ said church spokesman Hank Shaeffer, their real estate attorney. ‘While we have occasionally used the building for gathering purposes, we knew it was underutilized and in need of repair,’ Shaeffer said. ‘We were certainly not interested in selling it, nor were we actively looking for a tenant, but when the opportunity came to lease to New West we felt their use was compatible with ours. They have even agreed to our using their classrooms for our Sunday school, so I think it will work out very well for all. They seem to be as idealistic, and realistic, as we are.’ The church has agreed to lease the property, which is zoned C2, to New West for 10 years, providing the school can raise the $600,000 to 700,000 in private funding to upgrade the facility, which will include bringing the 14,000-ft. structure up to code, removing any asbestos, mold or lead paint, and making it ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant. Architect Jennifer Wen, whose goal is to ‘improve the functionality of the structure as well as the aesthetic,’ told the Post that plans for the school include opening up the common areas and rebuilding the whole facade along Sunset. Walls between some of the hotel rooms will be eliminated to create larger classrooms, the 30-ft-. wide fireplace in the dining room will be restored, and part of the 1,800-sq.-ft. kitchen may be converted to a science laboratory. ‘As a prospective parent I am thrilled that the children will have the opportunity to learn in such a nurturing environment,’ said Wen who, with her husband Jeff Guh, a structural engineer, was involved in the design of New West’s other campus on Pico, where they helped convert a former furniture warehouse into a modern, urban space in a record 3-1/2 months to meet last fall’s opening deadline. Wen and Guh, who live in Mar Vista, first got involved in New West when they attended an informational meeting about the new middle school last spring, even though their oldest child, Kevin, was only in third grade at the time, and daughter Alison was in second grade. Since then, the couple has been happily volunteering their time, as have many of the other parents. ‘I am inspired by the natural light and space here at the inn,’ said Wen, who received her masters in architecture from Cal State Long Beach in 1984 and looks forward to converting the space. ‘There’s going to be a paneled library upstairs. And we’re going to turn the dining room into a reading room. I can already see the children snuggling up by the fire.’ Eagle, who has been working on the New West school project for almost five years, looks around the Santa Ynez property and almost cannot believe his good fortune in acquiring the site. ‘I mean, every time I drove by here, for years, I thought of how great it would be for a school. Now, what we are trying to do with New West, is to create a model of what’s possible in public school education. That is the goal here.’ Eagle, a Highlands resident, hopes to have the Sunset campus, which will accomodate 300 students, ready for the fall. Wen said, ‘knowing David it is possible. With him, it seems the harder he works, the luckier we all are.’ Middle school students for New West are all selected by lottery. Editor’s note: the Palisadian-Post thanks Randy Young for providing photos and research for this report.
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