Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa

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Discover Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, which is an architecturally accurate replica of a California mission on top of mineral waters.

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Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2014, dates back to 1927.

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While the resort itself specifically dates to the early 1900s, the land upon which it resides has been inhabited by humans for centuries. Some of the earliest tales about the area involve four large Native American settlements. Those communities specifically gathered around the local hot springs for their medicinal and spiritual properties. Then, in the 1840s, the land was acquired by Dr. T.M. Leavenworth, a New York transplant who worked as both a physician and an Episcopalian minister. Calling the area the “Agua Rica Farm,” Leavenworth constructed a massive country estate. Eventually, the doctor sold the farm and its attending facilities to Captain Henry E. Boyes in 1883. Boyes himself was a former officer in the British Royal Navy who had immigrated to California following a stint running an indigo plantation in India. The captain knew of the mineral springs on Leavenworth’s property and saw an opportunity to transform it into a luxurious health retreat. Buying some 75 acres from Leavenworth, Boyes quickly set about developing the resort. He specifically started drilling deep down into the land in order to find the actual source of the water. It took him years to find, though. Digging down to a depth of 70 feet several times, Boyes finally discovered an underground stream with springs as hot as 112 degrees in 1895. The amount of available water was so great, that the captain estimated that it could produce some 100,000 gallons a day for his business.

Elated, Boyes immediately began transforming the Agua Rica Farm into the main facility for his health retreat. Initially a single, modest wooden structure, Boyes was able to create a magnificent two-story hotel when investors A.E. Parramore and Rudolph Lichtenburg joined the project. Their infusion of cash also allowed Boyes to add a small theater, a club house, and several small cabins. Soon enough, a small community emerged around resort that was known locally as the “Boyes Hot Springs.” The resort itself assumed the name of the “Boyes Hot Springs Hotel.” By the end of the 19th century, the resort—as well as the surrounding village—became one of the most heavily visited holiday destinations in Sonoma Valley. Thousands of vacationers had started to arrive in great numbers, with some 4,000 in attendance by 1896—nearly a 400% increase in visitation from when it first opened just a few years prior! The success inspired Boyes to incorporate the Boyes Hot Springs Hotel in 1902. Boyes eventually retired two years later, leaving the business in the hands of a management team. The captain set aside some 15 acres at the resort for his own private use, constructing a small manor called “El Mirador.” Meanwhile, the popularity of the resort continued to grow unabated. The management team added several more facilities, as such, including tent cabins, tub baths, and a swimming pool There was even a bottling plant onsite that remained in operation until the 1960s.

Unfortunately, a fire broke out at the resort in 1923, when some workers ignited a few plants while they removed a couple beehives. Despite the best efforts of the staff to control the flames, the inferno spread throughout the location and down into Boyes Hot Springs below. It utterly devastated the Boyes Hot Springs Hotel and the surrounding countryside. While the neighboring community rebuilt within a matter of months, the resort was left in ruins. Salvation for the destination arrived some three years later, though, once the Sonoma Properties Company purchased the entire site. Fred Partridge and Rudolph Lichtenberg—who had previously funded the Boyes Hot Springs Hotel—specifically managed the project, investing some $600,000 into developing the new resort. The two men hired architect Joseph L. Stewart to design the resort, while Roscoe W. Littlefield provided the labor. They instructed Steward and Littlefield to construct a brilliant facility that would emulate the architecture of the historic structures that dotted the landscape. As such, the new facility displayed the iconic bell towers, beamed ceilings and red-tiled floors of the Spanish missions that once defined California’s colonial past. But the resort also contained a wealth of new, cutting-edge features, too, such as indoor plumbing and electrical lighting. All 100 guestrooms received their own bathrooms, and even had access to telephone services.

The new resort opened as the “Boyes Hot Springs Hotel” with a grand gala in August 1927. Yet, Partridge and Lichtenberg changed its name a mere six months after its debut to the “Sonoma Mission Inn.” The hope was that the destination would capitalize upon the local interest in the historic structures that lined the Sonoma Square in nearby Sonoma. Within a matter of months, the resort quickly resumed its status as one of the most population vacation getaways in all of California. Demand for accommodations grew to such an extent that management charged $7.50 for a single night, while other hotels in the area charged a mere dollar. Yet, this prosperity was not to last, as the Great Depression abruptly flattened interest in booking a reservation at the Sonoma Mission Inn. The economic disaster forced the Sonoma Properties Company to file for bankruptcy, reporting liabilities of $710,500 to assets south of $660,00. Abandoned, most of the resort quickly fell into disrepair again. Only the cottages avoided any sort of neglect, as they became private residences for several prominent families. Emily Long the purchased the site in 1933 and invested millions into renovating the space. What she accomplished was nothing short of spectacular. Long’s stewardship ushered in a brief renaissance for the resort that lasted for the remainder of the decade.

After briefly serving as a “rest center” for soldiers and sailors returning from the Pacific Theater in World War II, Emily Long surrendered control over the Sonoma Mission Inn to hoteliers E.B. Degolia and George T. Thompson. The two men were already accomplished hospitality professionals, having operated the renowned locations like the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, Ranch Rafael, and the Benbow Inn (another member of Historic Hotels of America). Thompson specifically remained invested in the resort’s future, and continued managing it right up until his death in 1963. Under is watch, the Sonoma Mission Inn became the select place for dignitaries, athletes, and movie stars as they passed through the Sonoma Valley. Several professional sports teams—including the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, and the Detroit Lions—even booked blocks of guestrooms whenever they made their way over to the Bay Area. Eventually, Thompson’s wife Vee sold the location to property mogul Richard Bristol. He, in turn, then sold it to Edward J. Safdie in 1980. Safdie then initiated a multimillion-dollar renovation that saw the creation of such iconic facilities like the current European-style spa. Today, this magnificent destination is part of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and operates as the “Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa.” Few places in the Sonoma Valley are better for a wonderfully historic vacation than this magnificent resort.

  • About the Location +

    Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa resides within the neighborhood of Boyes Hot Springs, a district of Sonoma that was once its own independent settlement. Sonoma itself is one of California’s most historic communities, having been established at the site of the Mission San Francisco Solano in 1835. It was specifically founded as a military outpost by Mexican military officer Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, who had been sent north to investigate Russian explorations to the region. Mission San Francisco Solano itself dated back a decade prior, created as the last—and most northern—of the 21 Franciscan missions present in California. Father Jose Altimira presided over the site, governing it until its closure by the Mexican government in 1833. Eventually, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo transformed the mission into a fortress, which he would use as a deterrent against any further foreign encroachments into the Bay Area. More importantly, Vallejo’s new base would provide much needed military support for the El Presidio Real de San Francisco, which was the main Mexican military installation in central California. The central component of the base was the Sonoma Barracks, which served as the headquarters for the entire garrison. Soon enough, a small village soon emerged around the new fort, with the Sonoma Plaza serving as its center. Vallejo eventually wound up named the new town, “Pueblo de Sonoma.” Historians today believe Vallejo discovered the name “Sonoma” from a local tribe of Native Americans, perhaps a band of the Wintun.

    Pueblo de Sonoma continued to support the El Presidio Real de San Francisco right up until 1846, when a part of American settlers occupied the Sonoma Plaza. Led by Captain John Charles Frémont, the group seized the fort and held its garrison captive. They declared the town the capital of their new country—the Republic of California—and raised the “Bear Flag” high above the base. (Interestingly, the flag was originally designed by William Todd, who was the nephew of future First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.) The republic did not last long, though, as they rebels soon surrendered control over their outpost to the United States, which had invaded the nearby port city of Monterey as part of the greater events related to the Mexican-American War. As such, the enclave became a territory ruled by the United States, although it lost its status as a center for regional governance. It did continue to house soldiers inside the Sonoma Barracks, though, including a company of U.S. Marines and Army dragoons. Major General Persifor Smith also used the barracks as the main administrative office for the newly created Pacific Division—a distinction that it kept for the next six years. But Sonoma eventually lost its position as a military installation in the early 1850s, when the nearby town of Benicia opened its own facilities.

    A strong civilian economy emerged as Sonoma transited away from being a military base. Miners were still traveling to the region in the wake of the California Gold Rush, with many flocking to Sonoma to provide for their every need. Some prospectors even believed that the area surrounding the town was ripe for gold mining, which led to rampant land speculation. As such, Sonoma quickly underwent a population boom that saw its size grow exponentially. It also began to cultivate a local tourism industry that produced dozens of hotels across town. Interest in visiting Sonoma remained, even after the gold mining craze had long died out. It was within this environment that Captain Henry E. Boyes was able to build his celebrated health resort. Around the same time, a Hungarian count named Agoston Haraszthy arrived in Sonoma. Purchasing hundreds of acres to the east of the town, he constructed a magnificent estate called “Buena Vista.” Haraszthy then proceeded to plant thousands of European grape vines throughout the property, creating the first modern vineyard in the area. Buena Vista built the foundation for the current California wine industry and transformed the entire Sonoma Valley into America’s premier wine growing region. Today, Sonoma is one of the most visited places in central California. It is home to the renowned Sonoma International Film Festival as well as few of the finest wineries in the United States. Sonoma also contains several reputed historic sites, including the Sonoma Plaza, which the U.S. Department of the Interior has recognized as a National Historic Landmark.


  • About the Architecture +

    When architect Joseph L. Stewart began constructing the Boyes Hot Springs Hotel, he chose Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture as the source for his inspiration. Also known as “Spanish Eclectic,” this architectural form is a representation of themes typically seen in early Spanish colonial settlements. Original Spanish colonial architecture borrowed its design principles from Moorish, Renaissance, and Byzantine forms, which made it incredibly decorative and ornate. The general layout of those structures called for a central courtyard, as well as thick stucco walls that could endure Latin America’s diverse climate. Among the most recognizable features within those colonial buildings involved heavy carved doors, spiraled columns, and gabled red-tile roofs. Architect Bertram Goodhue was the first to widely popularize Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, spawning a movement to incorporate the style more broadly in American culture at the beginning of the 20th century. Goodhue received a platform for his designs at the Panama-California Exposition on 1915, in which Spanish Colonial architecture was exposed to a national audience for the first time. His push to preserve the form led to a revivalist movement that saw widespread use of Spanish Colonial architecture throughout the country, specifically in California and Florida. Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture reached its zenith during the early 1930s, although a few American businesspeople—including Patrick J. Kennedy—continued to embrace the form well into the late 20th century.


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