Red Lion Hotel Woodlake to close after more than a half century

Exterior photo of the Red Lion Hotel in Sacramento in September 2013.
Exterior photo of the Red Lion Hotel in Sacramento in September 2013. lsterling@sacbee.com

The Seattle-based owner of the storied Red Lion Hotel Woodlake along Highway 160 in Sacramento said the hotel and conference center will close Dec. 12 and will be torn down.

The hotel, once one of the best places to stay in Sacramento, has been eclipsed through the years by more plush hotels downtown. It has also been the venue for top acts passing through Sacramento, everyone from bandleader Count Basie in 1972 to singer Chris Isaak in 2016.

Through the years, the hotel has gone through a succession of owners. In May 2015, the current owner, Columbia Pacific Advisors, bought the 18-acre hotel and conference center at 500 Leisure Lane.

Columbia Pacific officials said that they have not decided what future development will occur on the 14.4-acre eastern side of the Woodlake property.

“We are evaluating all options to best meet the needs of the surrounding community,” read a company statement. “In the meantime, we want to ensure the property is safe for the community, as such we intend to commence demolition of the vacant hotel soon after the hotel closes.”

Columbia also said in the statement that the company would move forward on a three-story, 143-bed assisted living and memory care facility that is in the works for 3.7 acres on the western side of the Woodlake property.

The hotel and conference center includes 262 guest rooms and 50,000 square feet of conference facilities that can accommodate up to 2,000 people, according to the hotel’s website.

The site traces its history as a hotel property to 1957, when developers broke ground for the Hotel El Dorado.

Frank F. Sebastian, widely known in hotel circles for his operation of Sebastian’s Cotton Club Theater Restaurant in Culver City, was one of the original partners in the Hotel El Dorado, along with Walter Fazzio, George Artz and Hal Ellis. Sebastian was president and general manager until late 1964, and when the hotel subsequently suffered financial problems, he returned in 1968 to lead the operation.

After changing hands and undergoing a multimillion-dollar remodeling in 1969, the hotel was renamed the Woodlake Inn.

In 1985, the hotel was purchased by Fred C. Sands, a Los Angeles-based real estate developer, who later that year announced plans for a major renovation. In 1989, he contracted with Radisson Hotels International to operate it.

The renovation project had taken 30 months and cost $40 million. In July 1989, The Sacramento Bee reported that not since the restoration of the state Capitol, which was finished in 1982, had any face-lift in Sacramento been so extensive and so expensive. Restoration of the state Capitol took six years and cost more than $67 million.

Just about every structure on the site was changed in some way or completely rebuilt, but a lake, with a $50,000 fountain shooting 40-foot sprays, remained the centerpiece.

A 2,000-seat amphitheater was located next to the lake for special shows and community cultural events. It opened as a Radisson Hotel with 324 rooms, two restaurants and a lounge, plus more than 1,800 square feet of retail space, as well as a 21,000 square-foot-ballroom and 50,000 square feet of meeting space.

In recent years, the hotel has struggled, with three different owners in the past five years. In 2012, Casino Royale opened inside the hotel, offering poker, Pai Gow, blackjack and baccarat. But the casino was shut down by the California Bureau of Gambling Control in November 2014 after allegedly failing to pay off nearly $60,000 in winnings it owed customers.

More recently, Columbia Pacific Advisors, announced plans to build the senior residential care facility. Kelli Trapani, a spokeswoman for the city’s Community Development Department, said the residential care facility has been approved and plans are being checked for building permits.

Trapani said the remainder of the site is still in the pre-application stage but the developer is expected to begin community outreach efforts soon.

City Councilman Jeff Harris, who represents Sacramento’s Woodlake area, said any closure would not be good news for the neighborhood.

“We hate to lose a hotel because we need hotel rooms,” he said. “That’s a long-standing institution.”

Larry Glover-Meade, president of the Woodlake Neighborhood Association, said he believed the neighborhood would welcome either a new or renovated hotel at the site. He said he still thinks it is a good location for a hotel because it is close to downtown Sacramento, but doesn’t have the parking problems. He said the neighborhood also would welcome a business that provides services to the area, such as a grocery store.

Outside of the Sacramento Convention Center, the Red Lion Hotel Woodlake was the largest conference venue that had a union contract with employees. As a result, he said, a lot of state employee groups held conferences there.

“People had just kind of hoped that’s how they would survive,” Glover-Meade said.

His greatest concern, he said, is that an owner would just hold on to the property until its value increased. “Having a vacant hotel wouldn’t be good,” he said.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy