Motel Owners Raise Rate from X to GP : Partnership Upgrades Rundown Valley Property, Aims for Business Travelers

Times Staff Writer

"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is not only the title of a Clint Eastwood movie, it could also be a capsule description of Sepulveda Boulevard as it runs through the San Fernando Valley.

Unfortunately, the "good" is in short supply on this highly visible north-south street, the main passage through the valley before the completion of the San Diego (405) Freeway in the 1960s.

Treeless, lined with ugly utility poles, blighted by proliferating mini-malls and decaying dingbat apartment buildings, the street is nevertheless a varied thoroughfare from the Sherman Oaks Galleria at Sepulveda and Ventura boulevards to that car-lover's delight, House of Corvettes at Sepulveda and San Fernando Mission Road in Mission Hills.

The first Builder's Emporium--dating back to the late 1940s--is on Sepulveda, and the historic Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana is only a few blocks off the street several miles to the north. This juxtaposition is not meant to be flippant or blasphemous: It is used to indicate the diversity of this street.

Before the freeway went through, many of the motels on Sepulveda catered to the tourist trade. Some still do, but many more feature X-rated, closed-circuit television and aim for a different audience.

It was into this environment that Richard E. Jones of City Management Co., 10653 Riverside Drive, North Hollywood, ventured when he acquired the rundown Voyager Motor Inn at 6500 Sepulveda Blvd., a block north of Victory Boulevard.

The 132-unit building was designed as a motel when it was built in 1964, but it was being used as an apartment building in 1982 when it was in foreclosure. Jones, who specializes in acquiring rundown properties, syndicating and rehabilitating them, purchased the property for $1.8 million from Coast Federal Savings & Loan.

"A feasibility study that we commissioned suggested that the highest and best use would be as a motel that would serve corporate and business travelers," Jones said. "That was the approach we used when we renovated The Voyager."

Rather than pricing the rooms high, Jones decided to begin with a corporate rate starting at $35 per night and a "rack" or "off-the-street" rate of $39.

"Since we opened in March, 1984, we've gotten repeat corporate business from firms like ITT, Litton Industries, Wells Fargo Bank and Valley Federal Savings & Loan, as well as the U. S. Navy," according to general manager John Lockhart. "A rate of $55 for a pleasant room with a kitchenette represents good value in today's market," the native of Scotland added.

An article on business travel in the July, 1985, issue of American Demographics magazine points out that "in addition to the affluent corporate executives now being served by . . . all-suite hotels, there exists an even larger . . . segment made up of field sales and service people, covering their regions by car and trying to keep costs down." The Voyager is clearly aiming at this market.

The project's redesign was handled by Stephen Bennett, a West Los Angeles-based graphic designer who used a nautical theme. Van Nuys is not exactly Santa Monica, but the portholes and sail-cover blue awnings were chosen because of the idea of cleanliness associated with the sea, Bennett said.

"The place was an absolute disaster area when I was called in by Dick Jones," he said, displaying "scratch and sniff" Polaroid photos of rooms crammed with garbage. "Many of the tenants hadn't paid rent in months and crimes and vandalism committed on the property made it very unpopular in the neighborhood."

Bennett is a graduate of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and much of his business is designing corporate brochures and logos.

"We decided that a nautical theme, including a sailboat logo on the front sign, brochure and business cards, would go a long way toward erasing the previous 'Motel Hell' image of the building," Bennett added. Not coincidentally, Jones, who lives in Studio City, has a boat in a marina in Long Beach.

"The blue material used for the awnings is the same used for sail covers for boats" Jones said. "It's durable and very resistant to the elements." He added that the renovation cost so far has totaled slightly more than $1 million.

Jones is the general partner, and 22 limited partners own the motel. He expects to keep it for three to five years, redoing rooms as money becomes available. The motel has a pool and a spa, but the only on-premises eating facilities are coffee and croissants in an area just off the front desk.

"Until a few weeks ago, we had a Du-Pars Restaurant just down the street, at Victory and Sepulveda," Jones said. "Unfortunately, that's been bulldozed for another of the mini-malls that are springing up all over the Los Angeles area, so we're looking at the possibility of a small restaurant in the Voyager."

The reaction to the rebirth of the Voyager has been enthusiastic from the motel's neighbors and city officials. Councilman Ernani Bernardi, in whose district the motel is located, is a strong supporter of the effort and similar moves to upgrade Sepulveda Boulevard, Jones said.

"Of course we're in business for the money, but a project like this makes me feel good, too," he added.

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