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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on July 13th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 19 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 19

Up on the hill: An iconic Los Alamos motel gets a makeover

By REBECCA ROSE

The motel with the campy, giant yellow sign was never talked about much. But I had always been curious–myself a bit of a retrophile–about the Skyview Motel in Los Alamos.

The sleepy motel had earned a dubious nickname from some locals. They dubbed it the Psycho motel, and its seemingly ominous and withdrawn presence overlooking Los Alamos did nothing to dissuade people from dubbing it "creepy." 


DESERT SOJOURN
Skyview Los Alamos recently reopened following an extensive remodel and refurbishing. The Nomada Hotel Group, based in San Luis Obispo, purchased the property and reopened it in April.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

But that perception is about to change.

The location reopened in April as Skyview Los Alamos after more than two years of work and renovations, the passion project of the Nomada Hotel Group, based in San Luis Obispo. With 33 rooms situated on a sprawling 5-acre property high atop a hill, plus a pool, full restaurant, bar, and a vineyard, Skyview is a secluded getaway ideal not just for travelers looking for a resting place between big cities. It's a destination for sojourners, a relaxing hideaway where there's little more to do than ignore your phone, lounge by the pool, and soak in the serenity.

Lost in time

One of the first things I noticed as I pulled into the lot at Skyview is the row of brightly colored bicycles resting by a shed. These are Linus bikes, a specialty brand that sells bikes ranging from $300 to $700. They're affixed with wooden crates and were mine for the taking. (Sort of.) It's one of the many high-end touches that feel rustic and authentic permeating Skyview's property.

Guests are encouraged to hop on a Linus and head over (or, more accurately, under, as in under Highway 101) to Los Alamos and explore the town, do some shopping and dining, and experience the community beyond the grounds of the hotel property.


FAR FROM THE MADDENING CROWDS
Guests enjoy a blend of luxury and rustic ranch indulgences at Skyview, which caters to travelers looking for a boutique hotel with unique touches.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

But as I stood in the middle of the courtyard, a combination of modern desert-friendly xeriscaping and casual California backyard, I honestly couldn't find any good reason why I would want to leave.

That's part of the allure, explained Kimberly Walker, managing partner of the hotel group. 

"It's not about just being a place you can sleep on the way to your destination," she said. "We really like to create properties that are the experience. ... We look at it and ask: 'What can we do so people don't leave?' We want people to stay here."

It feels contradictory to say the hotel was modernized to be more retro, but that is exactly what Nomada did. What's old is new again, upgraded with 21st century technological savvy that's still beholden to an old-fashioned heart and soul. The bed and linen are straight out of modern coastal decor, but an overstuffed leather chair wouldn't seem out of place in a ranch house back in the 1870s. Nomada made it a priority to keep the mid-century architecture intact, and reminders of its presence are everywhere.

The design aesthetic is somewhere between modern rustic and California desert ranch, dotted with accents of pure luxury. Individual rooms feel minimalist but decadent; a sprawling down comforter is accented by hand-embroidered stuffed animals, a delightfully kitschy splash. The minibar has a lively selection of local wines and independent distillers, mixed with artisanal candies and snacks.


CALIFORNIA OASIS
Kimberly Walker, managing partner of the hotel group that recently purchased and refurbished the Skyview Los Alamos, said the property pays homage to its Western roots and the wine country it sits in.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

Skyview's appeal is old-school charm, but scratch beneath the surface, and you'll discover the subtle touches of technology. Don't bother looking for the phone in your room to call the front desk; Skyview opts for a text messaging system instead. Need clean towels or have a question about how to get to Solvang? All asked and answered promptly via text. Hidden speakers pipe in music throughout the courtyard, and the clock radio next to the bed may look like it's from the 1950s, but it's WiFi compatible. And you won't be chopping any wood thanks to gas-powered fire pits located in the courtyard and in the back patio of your room.

Walker and the group envisioned Skyview as a boutique hotel similar to their Granada Hotel in SLO. She said they wanted the demographic they cater to at Granada to feel like Skyview was an extension of that property and, more importantly, a hat tip to the community it overlooks. 

"I really wanted to pay homage to those mid-century roots while also focusing on the roots of Los Alamos–a Western wine country town," she said. "The best places we've ever stayed at aren't necessarily these big, sprawling five-star resorts. They're the kind of place where you feel there is a nomadic essence. I think that evokes such a special feeling, when you can walk into a place and feel that it's a traveler's home."


PAYING HOMAGE TO HISTORY
Skyview’s owners made sure to preserve the mid-century architectural details in their remodeling while adding touches of modern comfort and luxury throughout the 5-acre property.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

Preservations

The Skyview has been on an interesting journey of its own over the past 60 years. 

The property was first open in 1959, part of America's motel boom, when locally owned properties dominated the highways and byways. (The Beatles are rumored to have stayed there once.) By 1997, the property had been purchased by Don and Jan Macintyre, the latter of whom auctioned the property off to Michael Schoff in 2003. At the time, the property and buildings were valued at about $1.4 million. For the next decade, the hotel slowly fell into disrepair, eventually renting rooms out by the month.

That's when the Nomada Hotel Group stepped in. The group–Walker, Mike Kyle, Roy Ogden, and Darren Smith–snapped up the property for under $2 million in 2016. It was the beginning of a two-year process that would include a total renovation, not just in the physical look.

Walker is no stranger to projects such as this one. She was behind the successful renovation of the Granada, sparked by her love of vintage buildings and a desire to keep the bistro she owned in its home building.


Explore Skyview
The Skyview Los Alamos hotel is located at 9150 Highway 101, Los Alamos. More info: (805) 344-0104 or skyviewlosalamos.com.

"It was a four-table restaurant that served wines and paninis," she said. "The building was a 1920s hotel that was slated to be demolished. So a group of us decided to buy it, because we loved the bistro so much. We designed everything ourselves. We had so much passion invested into the property we didn't even think about letting somebody else take over the design." 

They approached Skyview with the same plan. She admitted the hilltop hotel had always seemed a bit creepy and that she had never ventured up to see it, but once she laid eyes on the property, it was a different story.

"We really believe in restoring discarded properties and giving them new life," she said. "When we saw Skyview, we really fell in love with it. The views are amazing. It sits on all this land. It has 2 acres of pinot. The bones were very good, it just was not given the love that it needed to thrive like when it was built in 1959."


MODERN LUXURY
Skyview has 33 rooms, including several suites with kitchens. A recent remodeling was part of a two-year process aimed at creating a boutique hotel that caters to travelers and locals looking for a “staycation.”
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

View from the hill

You can't tell how special the setting at Skyview really is until you find a moment alone in it. 

Here, in a quiet space divorced of the sounds of Highway 101, it's not about the millions of dollars spent to purchase and refurbish it. It's not about speculating at the economic impact of commercial and residential development in the region or the health of the hotel industry in Santa Barbara County.

It's about a horse grazing in a pasture, far enough away to not be scared off as I try to steady my hand for a picture, but close enough that I can see its breath, steaming and rising over his long face. 

There are many quiet and downright unexpected moments like this at Skyview. For people like me, who aren't lucky enough to live in the more rural areas of the Santa Maria Valley and have to resign ourselves to apartment dwellings carved out of suburban enclaves, moments like this are a rarity. Writing about food and wine for the past few years has given me an appreciation for what phrases like "farm to table" mean, but I rarely get a chance to walk in the footsteps of the people who make that possible.

"We live in such a busy time," Walker said. "Everybody is so busy and going 100 miles an hour. What we always think about with Skyview is, 'How can we create a place where we can just relax?'"

Contact Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose at rrose@santamariasun.com.




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