Courtesy of Ashley Canty

The 160-year-old Hotel Léger in Mokelumne Hill is for sale. All you need is $960,000 and a love for maintaining its flair.

Discoveries: At the Hotel Léger, buy a night or buy the place

Published: Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1H

MOKELUMNE HILL – Some days, don't you just want to chuck it all – the road-rage traffic jams, the soul-sucking cubicle job – and leave the big city to head for the hills, maybe buy a historic Gold Rush hotel and become a kindly old innkeeper, à la Bob Newhart in a cardigan?

No?

Then I suppose you can stop reading right here.

Or, better yet, keep reading. What you learn will either irresistibly sway you toward this drastic lifestyle change or staunchly reinforce your initial inclination to stay put.

The historic Hotel Léger (pronounced "Le-Zhay," by Franco-phonies) in equally historic Moke (pronounced like "joke") Hill, outside of Jackson in the Mother Lode, is for sale. Check the couch cushions and your sock drawer; if you can scrounge up $960,000, the joint can be all yours.

What you'll get is a charmingly rustic 13-room boutique hotel, a restaurant with two elegant dining rooms, a rockin' saloon, a billiards room, banquet facilities, pool, patio, livery stable/bar, trellis and gazebo for weddings, wine cellar/tasting room, and – legend has it – ghosts of wacky Gold Rush characters haunting the halls.

It's everything you'd want in a weekend-retreat getaway for pleasure-seeking Sacramentans and Bay Areans.

OK, so why is it for sale, then? What's the catch?

Owner Ashley Canty, whose mom was the bartender at Hotel Léger back in the day and who fondly recalls having all her birthday parties poolside, has decamped to the Big City (well, Burlingame, anyway) to run her interior design business. It just isn't feasible, she says, being an out-of-town owner, and her parents don't have the energy anymore to put in the work needed to keep the business humming.

And work it certainly is.

Canty, to her credit, doesn't shy away from the truth that running a hotel-restaurant-bar in a tourist town is laborious. No glossing over that just to make a quick sale. She's owned the place nearly 10 years now, and the callouses on her hands and withdrawal receipts from her bank account can attest to the challenges.

"It can be a handful," she said. "It's going to take more new energy coming in. When it really gets going, it takes, like, up to 19 people working here, so it's not the cute little, 'Oh, let's run an inn; it'll be easy' thing. It's so much busier than you could ever imagine."

So, illusion shattered, right?

Hardly. Lest she scare off potential customers, Canty is quick to add that pleasures of running a hotel that's a registered state landmark far outweigh toil.

"But the best buzz for an owner," she adds, "is when the bar's full, there's a wedding, the hotel's booked for the weekend, you've got live music and you just get a great high from all the energy. That's when the hotel feels alive. It's a great feeling."

Canty has the place looking spiffy and Sunset magazine-photo-shoot-ready after pouring "thousands and thousands" of dollars into restoration over the years. She should receive some official civic commendation just for tearing out the hideous pink shag carpeting installed by previous owners and sanding down to the original wood flooring.

Yeah, there's still work to do, as can be expected of any functional building that's 160 years old. Because the structure is a fusion of three structures – the original hotel, the Calaveras County courthouse and the county jail – there are architectural quirks, such as sloping floors and leaks in the ceiling where the courthouse and hotel join.

But there clearly is not the major renovation Canty had to tackle when she first bought the place. She rewired the electrical system, upgraded the plumbing, installed central air conditioning and heating.

That's in addition to using her designer's eye to appoint the rooms and hallways with period-appropriate furniture and wall hangings.

That stained glass in the saloon? She got it from an 1851 Victorian home in San Francisco.

There is much she still wants to do. But, alas, her Bay Area business takes up nearly all her time and her parents are retired.

It's time to sell.

"My biggest fantasy, the thing I never did, was (build) a deck on top of the restaurant up there, with a firewall staircase down to (the deck), so the guests could get quickly down," she says, sighing.

"You want to take it to the next level, that's the thing. It's kind of a never-ending project. I want so badly to keep going. But you know what they say, 'No one ever really owns the hotel; you're just a caretaker.' It'll be here another 100 years and survive everybody."

She just wants to find somebody who "wants the lifestyle of living in a small town, respects the historical significance and knows how to run a hotel."

What Canty doesn't want, what has kept her from unloading the place on just anybody, is for it to become a ramshackle husk of itself – or, worse, go out of business or become a chain.

"There's a lot of emotion in town about this hotel," she said. "People treat it like their own. It's like the living room for the town."

Back when Canty first bought the place and wanted to return the exterior to its original gold, close to 30 residents volunteered to help paint, conjuring images of an Amish barn-raising – with libations.

"If I didn't live in Burlingame, I'd keep it. And, you know, I really don't want to drive back in a few years from now and see a 'Holiday Inn' stamped on the front. That's happened to hotels in other places around here.

"It's really got to be a buyer who sees this as a labor of love."

Emphasis on labor.

The Hotel Léger

The historic hotel is at 8304 Main St. in Mokelumne Hill, seven miles east of Jackson. It's open Thursdays through Sundays, with a bar and dining rooms.

More information: www.hotelleger.com.

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