June 24, 2021

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Coronavirus: Big Sur hotel reopens after COVID-19 closure

4 min read

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn is back — or, at least, the lodgings portion of the historic property is.

According to general manager Matt Glazer, Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn started renting is famous rooms again in a “slow opening” that began Nov. 22. Reopening the hotel’s popular restaurant could happen by spring 2021, he added.

The inn partially closed its doors in March due primarily to COVID-19 restrictions.

Directors of the nonprofit Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn Preservation Foundation announced “the indefinite suspension of the operation” of the inn in August, after smoke from the Dolan Fire near Big Sur forced the inn to cancel advance reservations and refund deposits.

Other factors also played a role in the decision to shutter the Monterey County inn — including the end of a long-term lease between Deetjen’s Inc., which has owned the property for decades, and Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn Preservation Foundation, which operated the Inn and its restaurant.

Solutions to issues between the two nonprofits are being finalized now, Glazer said, putting Deetjen’s Inc. at the helm of all operations. The second nonprofit no longer operates the inn, he said.

“It’s not a new owner … just a simplification of the nonprofit” situation, Glazer said, with the operational entity transferring to the longtime ownership nonprofit “all the assets, the nitty gritty of running the business … the reservations systems, kitchen equipment, furniture and fixtures to keep the Inn as it’s always been.”

History of Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn

The history of Deetjen’s Big Sur stretches back to the early 1930s, when Helmuth and Helen Deetjen settled in the Castro Canyon area of Big Sur, living in tents while building a small house and a big barn, according to the inn’s website.

In 1939, a main building became the inn’s restaurant. Eventually, as Highway 1 was built and more people flocked to the area, the property became a hotel — and an iconic symbol of Big Sur.

Surrounded by redwood trees and gardens including a massive wisteria plant, Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

Decades of wildfires took their toll on the nonprofit operation of the inn. So did floods, mudslides, road closures and the replacement of a Highway 1 bridge.

Directors of the Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn Preservation Foundation announced the closure of the inn in a letter posted on Facebook on Aug. 28.

“For more than half a century, Deetjen’s has been a community-centered nonprofit dedicated to preserving the time and place of the homesteading era in Big Sur,” the letter read.

Nonprofit plans repairs to historic Monterey County hotel

What allowed Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn to reopen faster than many thought it could, Glazer said, were “the vision, flexibility and willingness of the (Deetjen’s Inc.) board to see into the future, to set up a structure to allow Deetjen’s to survive for generations.”

The nonprofit is currently “engaged in the act of preservation,” he said.

“After that is rehabilitation, not just keeping the Inn as it’s always been,” but properly maintaining it, Glazer added.

Community members, history buffs and Deetjen’s fans can help make all that happen.

Inn representatives said in mid-November that those tasks include repairs to “systematic and structural concerns” such as restoration of units damaged by winter storms in 2017 and fortifying water systems and assuring protection against wildfire danger.

Facing all that, they said, they “must plant the seeds for capital expenses concurrent to opening doors to the public” again.

That means fundraising.

Glazer said donations toward those efforts can be made via the inn’s website, www.deetjens.com, or by emailing [email protected]

How to reserve a room

Room reservations at the inn are being accepted through 2021, so planning ahead is a good idea.

“Each room is unique, so it’s good to see what the options are,” Glazer said, advising would-be guests to go online to check out the rooms before calling or emailing to make a reservation.

Rooms costs from $100 a night for a single occupancy room with a shared bathroom to $350 on a weekend night for a room with a fireplace and private bath. There’s a two-night minimum stay on weekends.

Getting away from it all at the inn — literally, because there are no in-room phones, televisions Internet or cell service — is part of what has drawn repeat bookings. So has the inn’s old-world romanticism, including linen sheets and duvet covers.

But a major attraction since the 1930s has been the aspect of simply “staying in the redwoods in Big Sur,” Glazer said.

The inn’s damaged trails haven’t yet been reopened or fully repaired, but for many, it’s enough to be able to, once again, soak in the peaceful ambiance, the pristine nature of Big Sur and what Glazer called the “light energy” of simply being there.

For details, room rates and availabilities, go to www.deetjens.com. To make reservations, call 831-667-2377 or send an email to [email protected]

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Kathe Tanner has been writing about the people and places of SLO County’s North Coast since 1981, first as a columnist and then also as a reporter. Her career has included stints as a bakery owner, public relations director, radio host, trail guide and jewelry designer. She has been a resident of Cambria for more than four decades, and if it’s happening in town, Kathe knows about it.

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