Historic Marin properties survive coronavirus setbacks

Hannah Morgan

As the sun sets behind Mount Tam, Pelican Inn’s silhouette stands out against the colorful sky. Small, masked groups gather socially distanced in its grassy front yard and only a single couple sit in its wooden dining room. Pelican Inn, West Point Inn and Mountain Home Inn are a few of Marin’s historic sites that have faced severe setbacks during the coronavirus pandemic and have recently begun the slow reopening process. These sites all rely on patrons to continue running, and now that Marin has entered the orange tier, which signifies only a “moderate” spread of the virus, these sites are legally able to reopen to 50 percent indoor capacity. 

Reopening the week of Nov. 2, West Point Inn is set to become a community hub again. Image courtesy of Robert Morgan.

West Point Inn, stationed on Railroad Grade in Mill Valley, has stood for 116 years, according to the Marin Independent Journal, and has been closed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Alyssa Jorgensen, a member of the board and the reopening committee at West Point Inn, says that the lack of in-person fundraisers and events, such as their Pancake Breakfast, has made maintaining the inn more of a financial burden. During their closure, they have opted to run online fundraising through their website and they plan to begin reopening the week of Nov 2. Jorgensen says that the main constraint in reopening has been handling the risk of coronavirus spreads within the many shared spaces at the inn – such as bathrooms, lounges and kitchens. 

“Typically [West Point Inn] is a gathering place and we’re going to be asking our members and our guests to see it a little bit differently,” Jorgensen said. 

Vaila Heinemann, a junior in her third year on the Redwood mountain biking team, frequently rides by West Point Inn and believes that before the pandemic it has made Mount Tam feel less remote. 

Sitting on Mill Valley’s Panoramic Highway, Mountain Home Inn is open under Marin’s coronavirus guidelines.

“The mountain is more welcoming with [West Point Inn] there. … You can buy food if you need to, you can get emergency water – stuff like that,” Heinemann said. “I think it would be really cool to keep it open and running … and definitely keep it where it is on Tam because it provides a spot for people to get out and be more involved in their community.”

Another historic site in Mill Valley that has temporarily closed is the Mountain Home Inn. It was originally built in 1912 by a Swiss-German couple and later bought and renovated under new owners in the 1970s, according to the inn’s website. Miguel Garcia, a manager at both Mountain Home Inn and Pelican Inn in Muir Beach, says that both locations are now owned by Edward Cunningham. The two sites closed at the start of the pandemic and began to publicly reopen after roughly six months. According to Garcia, about half of the employees at the joint locations have been laid off over the course of the pandemic. 

“It was kind of like a nightmare. … The phones were nonstop at least for a month and a half with calling back and refunding money back to people. We lost a lot of money… so it basically changed everything,” Garcia said.

Located at Muir Beach, Pelican Inn hosts socially distanced dinner until 7 p.m.

Additionally, Pelican Inn has shortened its hours to support the limited number of people allowed inside. Front-desk manager at Pelican Inn Amaya Cotton feels the culture at the Pelican Inn has also changed dramatically. 

“Not only did we have to shut down for pretty much six months and move all these reservations hotel-wise … but when we opened back up on June 1 we had to basically say the only people who could stay in our inn until Sept. 24 were essential travelers. So doctors, nurses, people like that who couldn’t be in their own homes at that time,” Cotton said. 

All three sites have worked to continue running despite struggles with the pandemic, which is especially important due to the key role they play in Marin’s history. Garcia recognizes the significance of their survival during the pandemic because he has seen firsthand that people are appreciative of these sites lasting through the years.

“[A historic site like this] is important… because that’s the only way you will know more about where you grew up or where you were born … it’s very important because it’s a record on life,” Garcia said.