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Joie de Vivre Hospitality Nears Completion of Transforming Dowdy
 Sacramento Office Building to the Haute Citizen Hotel
By Mary Lynne Vellinga, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 18, 2008 --For decades, the jewel of a Beaux Arts building at 926 J St. slowly faded, many of its finest features obscured by unfortunate add-ons, a place where nonprofit groups rented inexpensive, cramped offices.

The 1925 high-rise is about to gleam again, however, when it reopens Nov. 30 as the Citizen Hotel.

The 198-room Citizen will be operated by San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre Hospitality, a company known for quirky one-of-a-kind hotels, each designed to reflect a particular sensibility.

After holding focus groups in Sacramento, JDV head Chip Conley settled on a design for the Citizen that marries what he calls the combination of traits that define local residents: a certain small-town love of tradition combined with surprising diversity and sophistication.

Throughout the hotel, the decor also contains references to the presence of the Capitol and to politicians past and present.

Rooms at the Citizen will rent for $129 to $169 on weekends, and $169 to $450 on weekdays when demand in Sacramento is greatest, Conley said.

Developer Kipp Blewett, whose Rubicon Partners owns the Citizen, said its corner at 10th and J, across Cesar Chavez Park from City Hall, is "the new live corner" in Sacramento's central city. The Cosmopolitan restaurant and theater complex just opened a block away, and the nearby dining scene includes a growing roster of new restaurants.

Still, the corner is very much a place in transition. The hotel shares a block with a vacant building and two pawn shops. Across the street are more vacant buildings.

Conley said he thinks the eclectic mix just makes the environment more interesting. He noted that the hotel is 100 percent booked for opening night.

Blewett won't say exactly how much the rehab of the former office building cost, but it was clearly expensive.

Rubicon gutted the structure except for the marble-clad lobbies on each floor and the marble staircase that winds through the middle of the building.

"It was one of the most extensive rehab projects in downtown," Blewett said. The city contributed $9.9 million in redevelopment funds.

The political theme is reflected in little touches throughout the hotel. The floor lamps in each room are topped with a plaster bust of a head with indistinct features -- a citizen. Brass plaques bearing the room numbers also feature a pair of shaking hands -- a nod to bipartisanship.

The lobby and the second floor Scandal lounge are decorated in deep red and black, or as Conley puts it, "law library meets bordello."

For Scandal, Bee cartoonist Rex Babin is creating a series of cartoons depicting a new legislator's corruption and eventual disgrace after he arrives fresh-faced at the Capitol. Even the cocktail napkins will reflect the theme, with a lipstick kiss and the signatures of political figures.

The brick and terra cotta facade of the building reflects traditional, historic Sacramento, Blewett said. Inside the hotel, the rooms also are decorated in period fashion. Striped wallpaper pulls the eye up to the 12 1/2-foot ceilings. Hanging light fixtures resemble hatboxes. Balconies attached to the five 13th-floor suites offer sweeping views of downtown Sacramento.

The mood changes abruptly on the hotel's east side, where Rubicon has attached a metal and glass extension to the historic building facade. It houses Grange, a restaurant where chef Michael Tuohy, an Atlanta transplant, will focus on California cuisine featuring fresh local ingredients.

Inside Grange, the light fixtures are contained inside steel girders suspended from the ceiling, and a two-story metal and glass wine tower anchors one end of the space. Some booths will have curtains that wrap all the way around for privacy.

Rubicon used two different designers for the interior spaces. Historic hotel renovation specialist Candra Scott & Anderson of San Francisco designed everything except for the Grange. The more modern restaurant space was designed by Michael Guthrie, the San Francisco-based architect who also designed the Spataro and Esquire Grill restaurants in downtown Sacramento.

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Call The Bee's Mary Lynne Vellinga, (916) 321-1094.

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To see more of The Sacramento Bee, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sacbee.com/.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

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