Nevada City’s iconic National Hotel sold | TheUnion.com

Nevada City’s iconic National Hotel sold

Nevada City's most visible landmark, the National Hotel, has been sold.

Escrow is set to close today. New owner Jordan Fife is already well into the plans for a proposed multi-million dollar restoration of what is believed to be the longest continually operating hotel — since 1856 — in California.

"I have been coming to Nevada City since I was a child, and even met my wife here when I was 12, but there has never been anywhere truly wonderful to stay that reflects the charm of the town and the sensibilities of its tourists," said Fife, whose parents and grandparents have Nevada County roots and who stresses that he's no "carpetbagger" coming in to take advantage of the town.

"I have been in and out of this hotel my entire life, thinking if I could own only one hotel, this would be the property I would want," he said. "The bones are amazing, and its history is the perfect backdrop for what I want to create."

Prime location

Fife said he and his wife began looking for a potential hotel property about six months ago, after relocating to the area to help care for her father. Initially, he said, they looked at the Bank Building in downtown Grass Valley.

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Coldwell Banker Grass Roots Realty broker Jon Blinder suggested they take a look at the National.

"I always loved that property," Fife said. "It happened to be serendipity that it became available."

On Monday, Blinder declined to provide the specific sales price, as escrow had not formally closed.

Fife estimated the cost of renovation at about $5 million. The entire roof needs to be replaced, he said, adding that the complete renovation of the interior will rectify code violations that need to be addressed.

Fife's vision for the hotel — which is being renamed The National Exchange Hotel in a nod to one of its earlier incarnations — will tread a fine line between historic preservation and modern aesthetics — what he calls "a nod to the past and an eye to the future."

"I'm terribly excited to bring the property back to its former glory," he said. "I think the town is owed that."

Fife is planning work in two phases, starting with the main building. The bar closed Monday night and room reservations are being canceled. Fife said he plans to keep two rooms available in the back, however, in order to keep the "continuously operating hotel" designation.

He is hoping to complete the renovation in eight months, acknowledging that is an "aggressive" time line.

Start of something big?

According to Fife, The National Exchange Hotel Company will be the launch of the brand's flagship location in Nevada City. The company is funded by Eastern Real Estate and its niche market will be "mid-level luxury" hotels — somewhere between the Ace Hotel brand and the Four Seasons, said Fife, whose hotel experience includes working as the director of development and operations for L'Horizon Resort and Spa in Palm Springs.

"We're trying to do something different with the hotel experience," he said. "We're here to cultivate the environment and tell a story for our consumers and guests, to come in and fill in the blanks. If we do it right, they will have a magical experience and enjoy this town in the way this town really deserves."

The exterior will not change beyond a paint job, Fife said, promising that the veranda will remain a primary attraction. The interior is a different matter.

"The layout doesn't really make much sense," Fife said.

Fife intends to make the veranda much more accessible, as part of the restaurant, which will move upstairs, to where the lobby is now. The lobby will be relocated downstairs and will be re-imagined as a clubby, Victorian-era library and hangout spot.

"We want to dive into the quintessential moments of this property," he said.

The pool area will be substantially upgraded and the rooms upgraded so they all have bathrooms. Fife swears the bar will retain its intimate, slightly funky feel. And, he said with a laugh, he will do his best to keep the ghosts around.

Fife intends the revamped National Exchange Hotel to be a place for locals as well as tourists, with weekly karaoke, bingo and trivia nights planned.

"Part of the charm (of the National) is that it is part of the fabric of the community," he said. "It's important to keep (that charm) intact."

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.