The landmark Hotel Leger on Mokelumne Hill’s Main Street is ready for her close-up.
The Gold Rush-era lodging shined for the lights and cameras of The Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible” Monday afternoon after five days of virtually non-stop work to spruce up the hotel inside and out.
During the “final reveal” in the evening, owner Ashley Canty and the show’s host, Anthony Melchiorri, first laid eyes on the completed work of more than 150 local volunteers, along with the show’s crew.
Aging sections of the second floor deck were replaced and a fresh coat of paint was applied. An Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp was installed from the exterior sidewalk, and a mural of ancient Miwok scenes livened up a large room inside. There promised to be much more that will largely remain unknown to the general public until after the episode airs, tentatively set for January.
Melchiorri, a 20-year veteran of the hospitality industry who has held top positions at major hotels in New York and Orlando, is known to give hotel owners some grief for letting things get into a shabby state. Canty welcomed it. She wrote to the show, she said, knowing exactly what she could be getting into if selected.
A 1989 graduate of Calaveras High School, she said she bought the hotel in 2002 “because I wanted to save it and restore it, not by any means because I had the expertise.”
“We were lucky enough to get chosen. It’s been a huge opportunity and a huge advantage,” Canty said.
She said it became too easy to neglect the hotel upstairs while focusing on the more-successful restaurant and saloon at street level.
“You’re so busy running the day-to-day, you’re not stepping back and looking at it like a whole new business,” Canty said. “With (Melchiorri), you’re getting a third eye … to look at it from a different angle.”
Canty wants the hotel to feature much more prominently and begin to host more weddings and thrill-seekers who come to town to raft the nearby Mokelumne River. Commercial operations are expected to begin a three-year trial run there next year.
She said she appreciated the way Melchiorri respected the historical quality of the hotel with his remodel ideas. The old-fashioned charm is something she could not have bared to lose.
“We try to tell (potential guests) that it really is a step back in time. No phones, no TVs, it’s living history,” Canty said. “The floors creak. People who come for that think it’s the best thing on earth.”
It might never have happened if not for the massive outpouring of volunteer support and an accommodating permit process.
“The whole town, all of its skilled personnel, organized very well to accomplish much more than expected,” said Calaveras County Supervisor Steve Wilensky, who joined the volunteers out in front of the hotel Monday afternoon. “They came, they saw, they conquered. … It’s the indomitable spirit of the people of Mokelumne Hill.”
Skilled tradesmen included general construction workers, landscapers, artists, stonemasons, concrete contractors, carpenters and plumbers, Wilensky said.
Lead engineer Terry Weatherby, of Mokelumne Hill, said he is expecting the show featuring Hotel Leger to be the second season premiere of “Hotel Impossible” and possibly the first-two part episode for the series, which ran 13 episodes between April and August this year.
“They keep saying it’s the biggest project they’ve ever done,” Weatherby said.
Wilensky said he got a call about two weeks ago from the county Planning Department, who had just been contacted by the show. Producers needed to know local government would permit the whirlwind work. Wilensky said because no structural work would be involved in the facelift, it provided a trial run for a new “over-the-counter” permit. Planning Director Rebecca Willis has been working to enact the simplified administrative process since her hire two years ago.
“From the moment of application to getting the permit … and inspections (was) 48 hours,” Wilensky said. “For the public sector, that was breaking land speed records.”
The cause, he said, merited all the work involved, which extended beyond the hotel property to a new entrance sign to the town which crews could be seen filming Monday afternoon.
“It will get noticed all over the country,” Wilensky said. “This kind of revitalizes a place that needs a little bit of a boost.”
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Weekly Arts and entertainment guide for Calaveras and Tuolumne counties