History of Calistoga
Calistoga Town founder Samuel Brannan was the leader of a settlement expedition that landed in San Francisco in 1846. Publisher of the city’s first English newspaper, The California Star, he became California’s first millionaire following the 1849 Gold Rush. Fascinated by Calistoga’s natural hot springs, Brannan purchased 2,000 acres to develop a spa reminiscent of Saratoga in New York.
(Great true story: the town’s name comes from his tipsy malapropism that he would make this “the Calistoga of Sarafornia,” and the name stuck.)
History of Mount View Hotel -Calistoga
The hum of hot air balloon burners overhead, small town tranquility and the nostalgia of the 1920s-the Mount View Hotel in Calistoga offers all these attractions.
Johnny Ghisolfo was from the “old country’ and had business sense-he built the Mount View Hotel. The history of the Mount View is closely tied to both his personal history and to the history of Calistoga which he greatly influenced, being several terms its Mayor and City Council member. He was called “Mr. Calistoga” by local citizens. Under him the Mount View Hotel was not only a place for travelers but also a gathering place for prominent locals.
The European Hotel site in 1912
In 1912 he purchased the European Hotel on the site of the present day Mount View. He worked there as a bartender and also owned a ranch on Silverado Trail where he grew grapes for his winery. For the grand sum of $5,000, he purchased the hotel and operated it until 1918. The fee was $1.00 per day for a room and three meals.
Rebuilt in the Mission Revival Style- 1919
In 1919, he moved the old hotel back (it did not burn down in 1920 as previously thought) and built the Mount View. The new concrete structure with 8-inch thick walls was designed in the Mission Revival Style. Because Johnny was well liked in Calistoga, he had financial help when he began construction from other merchants and friends, among them a Mr. Light. When Mr. Light died the Principal remained owing but his heirs were unaware of the financial arrangements. Mr. Ghisolfo and Mr. Light wrote nothing down; they just shook hands over the loan of $16,000! But being an honest man, Johnny Ghisolfo went to the bank and borrowed the money to pay his final debt to his friend.
Two wings added in 1938
In 1938 he added two new wings. One extends farther back into the patio area, which today adds charm to the pool and patio arrangement. However, it was not planned that way-money simply ran out before one side was finished! Ghisolfo ran the hotel until July, 1964, when he retired and turned things over to his son, Johnny Ghisolfo, Jr. and his daughter, Mrs. Olga Fender who continued their involvement for five years.
‘Art Deco’ Living Masterpiece
After four more ownership transactions, Carol and Tom Wenaas purchased the hotel in 1979. Designers Jerry Roy and Paul Pilgrim transformed the old structure which had suffered the neglect of the depression and two world wars into a charming, first-class hotel.
The Mount View is a living masterpiece of Art Deco of the 1920s and 30s. In May, 1981, the Mount View Hotel was purchased for $2.5 million to two Canadian businessmen, Michael Reimann and Robert McNair, both from Vancouver. Under them, Brannan Court, a special dining room of stained glass decor, was completed in November of l981.
First Lady Hoover plants a rose tree during stay at Mount View Hotel
The original Mount View Hotel had 21 rooms. The addition of 20 rooms in 1919 brought the total to 45. In 1938 the number was reduced to 32 allowing for special suites named after illustrious personalities. One such suite is named after President Hoover who stayed at the Hotel during his time in office. During their visit, Mrs. Hoover planted a rose tree which still grows in the garden behind the hotel.
Themed Suites named after prominent past guests
The original Mount View Hotel Suites were individually themed and named after prominent visitors to the hotel. The Presidential Hoover Suite was complete with rose velour overstuffed furnishings. Sam Brannan, a turn-of-the-century investor who had visions of a spectacular resort area in Calistoga for fashionable San Franciscans to visit and “take the waters” was also honored with a suite in his name.
The Carol Lombard Suite was in soft peach French art deco, with old movie posters and a mirrored headboard (now featured in guestroom 229), while the Lily Hitchcock Coit Suite was heavy with Victorian decor. The Tom Mix Suite (after a cowboy popular in the 30s) is a wild west fantasy of horn and hide-upholstered furniture. Other featured suites were named after Jean Harlow, Robert Luis Stevenson and Johnny’s Suite, after founder Johnny Ghisolfo.
Mount View Hotel won recognition in the National Register of Historic Places
It was the Mission Revival style that won recognition for the Mount View in the 1981 National Register. A pool area complete with a mineral whirlpool spa sourced from Mount View Hotel’s own geothermal mineral spring are available year round. Many of the activities at the Mount View from weddings to wine tastings were reported in the society column of San Francisco papers just as Sam Brannan would have wished. On February 18, 1982, ‘Johnny Ghisolfo Day,’ The Hotel celebrated the birthday of Johnny Ghisolfo with a special Italian style lunch complete with ‘Johnny’s Stew.’
Mount View Hotel & Spa Revamped in ‘Artistic Deco’
In 1990, Michael Woods and his business partners purchased the Mount View Hotel. In 2007, Michael and Stephanie Woods buyout business partners and convert partnership into a family business. Stephanie, an artist from New York, begins a room by room remodeling in a style coined as “Artistic Deco” which complements the history of the hotel and the Art Deco moldings throughout the property. She paints the walls in deep hues of red, hangs bold black-and-white wallpaper prints and has hand-selected lamps, rugs, throw pillows, mirrors, and artwork, including three works from Gustav Klimt.
Mount View Hotel & Spa today
Celebrating over 100 years of hospitality, Mount View Hotel & Spa is voted ‘Best Boutique Hotel’ in Napa Valley and is the premier boutique hotel still set in the middle of downtown Calistoga on the city’s main street. Featured just off the lobby is the Hall of History, depicting a pictoral history and timeline of the rich history of Mount View Hotel & Spa. Today, visitors can still sit in the lobby with a glass of wine while the magic of the Mount View will bring back memories of a graceful time.