|By Kevin Howe, The Monterey County
Herald, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 24, 2010--The landmark Robles Del Rio Lodge that had stood on its oak-shaded hilltop in Carmel Valley for more than 80 years burned to the ground early Sunday morning.
The blaze was reported shortly after 3 a.m., and firefighters arrived at the lodge grounds at 200 Punta Del Monte Road to find the roof had burned through and the walls "were barely standing," said Carmel Valley Fire Division Chief Miles Schuler.
That call came from Katherine Klawans Smith, who lives in a house directly across the canyon from the lodge.
She woke up about 3 a.m., Smith said, looked out her window and saw "a big orange blob at the top of the hill across the canyon. It was Robles Del Rio Lodge, engulfed in flames.
"I usually sleep through anything," she said, "earthquakes, thunder, anything. Something woke me and I as looking at this big orange glow at the top of the hill. When I realized what it was, I called 911."
Hers was the first call in, Smith said. "What was amazing was that they (firefighters) hadn't yet had any other calls about the fire. How could the fire be that big without anyone else noticing?"
She then grabbed her camera and snapped photos of the lodge's immolation.
Five engines of the fire department and two water tenders, along with 18 firefighters, responded, Schuler said. As their water tenders ran dry, a third tender from Monterey County Regional Fire District arrived and neighboring fire departments sent engines to Carmel Valley Fire's Mid-Valley station to
cover any other emergencies that cropped up.
Access to the 10-acre site was hampered by the narrow, twisting roads that led to the lodge, he said, and by construction fencing left around partially completed projects.
The fire was fought for three hours before it was brought under control, Schuler said, and by late morning "there was nothing but ashes and charcoal left.. It burned down to nothing."
The fire was confined to the 3,000-square-foot main lodge building, he said, and none of the smaller structures around it were damaged.
The building had been empty for some years and a number of buildings on the site were in various stages of construction, Schuler said. "It's pretty much been unoccupied for the last 10 years."
County and state arson investigators were combing through the ashes, seeking a point of origin for the fire and clues to its cause, he said.
"There's not much left. It's kind of hard to pinpoint a point of origin. We're interviewing neighbors. It won't be soon before we get a cause."
No firefighters were injured, Schuler said.
The lodge was built in 1928 by Frank Porter and had been the center of the community -- Carmel Valley Village was then called Robles del Rio -- and was the first lodge in Monterey County to feature a heated swimming pool, golf course and liquor license.
Bill Wood, a world-renowned hotelier, bought the lodge in 1939 and made it more exclusive. Visitors included Arthur Murray, Red Skelton, Doris Day and Tippi Hedren.
The Gurries family purchased the lodge in 1985 from Wood. In 1997 they won county approval to add 24 units. Financing fell apart, however, and the lodge was closed in February 2000.
In October 2000, managing partner Glen Gurries received county approval to sell about 6.6 acre-feet of water credits to 19 property owners, mainly in the Carmel and Carmel Highlands areas.
The water rights had become available when the Robles owners drilled a well in a nearby hillside, allowing them to disconnect from the California-American Water Co. system.
Much of the water credits were used for new or expanded homes, whose owners paid up to eight times the going rate for a Cal-Am water connection.
The controversial water deal generated lawsuits and a public outcry over the sale, which resulted in the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District putting an end to the practice of selling credits to the highest bidders.
The property has been advertised most recently as a high-end condominium hotel when completed, with 59 cottage units priced from nearly $450,000 to more than $2 million.
Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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