Ancient vines and old hotels

Her love of history and respect for ancestral roots led Nancy Cline down an unanticipated path of restoring old hotels. While she and her husband Fred’s first priority is their Cline Cellars and Jacuzzi Family wineries, bringing hotels back to their original glory is her passion project.

Cline’s first foray into hotel renovation began on a family vacation in Italy, visiting towns where Fred has heritage and hunting for a small apartment to purchase and use for entertaining wine club members. Instead they happened upon Villa Laura in Cortona, the 1504 estate where the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” was filmed, a stand-in for Bramasole, the place Frances Mayes restored and wrote about in her memoir.

“When they made the movie there they fixed everything with papier-mâché and false walls. It was all just a set,” she said. Cline fell in love with it and brought it back to its splendor, turning it into a small hotel. “It was a great project. We used it for the wine club for a few years,” she said. It was so inviting the current owner made them an offer so enticing they said goodbye to Villa Laura. “Management from afar got to be a problem so we sold it.”

She then found another 15th century building in Cortona. “We are renovating it now and it’s so cool. It has a well on it from 300 BC.” Her fascination is not based in the architecture per se, but in the history. “I’m fascinated by how people built their lives over the years.”

The Belvada Hotel in Tonopah, Nevada. (Photos by Megan Cline)
The Belvada Hotel in Tonopah, Nevada. (Photos by Megan Cline)

The Italy undertaking is back of mind compared to Cline’s fascination with Tonopah, Nevada, the place from which her great uncle Henry Ramsey and her grandmother hailed before heading to the Bay Area. Tonopah grew with the gold and silver mining boom and in the early 1900s her Uncle Ramsey owned a gold mine and a saloon there and her Grandma Emma was the postmistress in nearby Greenfield. Feeding her fascination with the place, Fred and Nancy and their now-grown seven children continued to visit occasionally.

Tonopah, once a thriving mining town, declined when mining failed and never returned to its early glory years. Halfway between Reno and Las Vegas it was mainly a stop-off point for drivers making that trip. The five-story Mizpah Hotel, built in Tonopah’s heyday in 1907, was already closed and sitting empty for 12 years at the time the nationwide real estate crisis hit. By 2010 the owners feared they would never get their $1.6 million asking price and a real estate agent called the Clines, out of the blue, to tell them they could probably get it for $250,000.

At the time the Clines owned and had revived the Dillon Beach Resort, the only privately owned beach in California, which they bought in 2001 and sold in 2018. They also own the Olive Press, Green String Farm in Petaluma and a cattle ranch in Red Bluff, all sidelines to their primary winery businesses.

Nancy Cline in her Sonoma home on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
Nancy Cline in her Sonoma home on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Nancy’s first inclination was to turn down the idea of owning the Mizpah Hotel. “I told her, ‘Fred and I enjoy visiting Tonopah but we really don’t need a project right now.’” By the time the phone called ended she said she would buy it for $200,000 and the offer was only good until 9 a.m. the next morning.

“Then I hung up the phone and looked at Fred and said, ‘I think we just bought a hotel in the middle of nowhere.’”

When they went up to see it they weren’t disappointed with their investment. “It’s a magnificent building. It has all the original chandeliers and brass fixtures.” It took nine months to renovate. “It needed HVAC. It needed cosmetics, like painting and carpeting.”

The Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, Nevada. (Photos by Megan Cline))
The Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, Nevada. (Photos by Megan Cline))

The 47-room Mizpah Hotel is now thriving and includes two restaurants. The historic property even made the 2018 USA Today People’s Choice Award as the number one “Haunted Hotel” in America, according to Cline, because the ghost of the Lady in Red, who was murdered there long ago, reportedly still makes her presence known.

Once established in Tonopah the Clines also started the Tonopah Brewing Company, and their son Ramsey, 34, an aerospace engineer, built and operates the Mizpah Club Casino adjacent to his parents’ hotel. Nevada Magazine called the Mizpah Hotel “the spark that continues to light Tonapah’s fire.”

And that spark lit a new flame for the Clines. The city offered to sell them the dilapidated Nevada State Bank Building that needed to be either brought up to code or torn down. The price? One dollar.

It was a total reclamation project and it took six years. “It was on the verge of falling down. We didn’t even know where to begin,” she said. There were gaping holes between floors and plenty of pigeons living inside.

What is now the 40-room Belvada Hotel opened in 2020. Like the Mizpah, it is already running at almost 100 percent occupancy.

For Nancy the revival of the hotels, and of Tonopah itself, it a way of respecting those who came before and all they accomplished.

“I can’t sing. I can’t dance. I can’t draw. There are so many things I know I can’t do. But when it comes to restoring old buildings and honoring the people and the places they created for their families and their communities, I have unbounded passion,” she said.

“Once the projects are finished I look at them and I’m not even sure how they got done. It all works out. It’s utterly magical to me.”

The 1,500 residents of Tonopah, where the Clines are also active in trying to bring a much-needed hospital to town, are no doubt enjoying the Cline magic touch.

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