Floating some deals

Times Staff Writer

Being pampered isn't a male thing, maintains Beverly Hills screenwriter Alonzo Brown. And, growing up in New York City's Spanish Harlem, he learned that life was more about "responsibility" than treating himself well.

Not until he attended an African American executives' entertainment summit at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa five years ago, he says, did those perceptions irrevocably change.

Nearly once a year, Brown has returned to that spot -- an easy 90-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles -- for some rest and recuperation.

"It's not enough to go to the gym and lift 100 pounds," said Brown, 41, whose film "Honey," co-written with Susannah Grant, is due out from Universal Pictures in the fall. "You have to feed your soul as well. Lying on the massage table, getting a facial, buying ice cream in that one-movie-theater town, you put the world on hold. Still, true 'spirituality' means walking your own path, breaking things down -- not getting picked up in a golf cart."

This spring, Brown has additional incentive: Through April 21, the historic resort is offering a "Happy New You" special. Sundays through Thursdays, two people sharing the least expensive (but still comfortable) accommodations are each entitled to a 50-minute spa treatment for a total of $250 a night. (Single occupancy: $180 for the same package.) Since most of these top-of-the-line offerings, ranging from a reflexology massage to a "healing hands" facial, cost $95 to $105, a room here is no more expensive than a bed at Motel 6. The same lodging, without spa treatments, normally ranges from $279 to $340.

What's the catch? A massive 15-month renovation of the 80-year-old property is underway. Though the clamor of construction is sporadic and contained, it doesn't foster serenity. Starting in late April, only 60 rooms will be open while the $50-million project (100 more rooms, new spa restaurant, revamped pool) is in full gear.

Sure, the place could use a better phone system and would benefit from a more uniform architectural scheme. (Like Los Angeles, the sprawling, mostly Spanish-style complex is an interconnected series of pockets.) But those who value the facility's laid-back, almost do-it-yourself air and unpretentious spa fear that the proposed expansion could be a mixed blessing in terms of intimacy as well as room rates.

"Many of the larger places lose the human scale," said Cindy Williams, 35, a Santa Barbara resident and former employee at an overseas spa. "But here there's a boutique feel -- lots of nooks and crannies so you never feel the crowds."

Those who are here understand the "spa mentality," her brother Ric, 51, observes. "This is a destination, not Vegas or a ski resort, so people aren't just passing through," says the landscape architect, one of a handful of men in a sea of primarily SoCal professional women with a sprinkling of imports thrown in.

Guests are advised that the 5-year-old spa is a cell phone-free zone where meditation and silence are encouraged. Still, at the poolside cafe, wine is served along with protein-powder smoothies. And, despite the early morning walks and power yoga classes, says Leslie Kaufman of Irvine, the place doesn't take itself too seriously.

"This isn't as spartan as [Desert Hot Springs'] Two Bunch Palms, where everyone talks in whispers," she said. "It walks the middle line between luxury comfort and the spiritual -- very laissez-faire."

Though the rest of the inn was relatively quiet midweek, the two buildings closest to the spa were virtually sold out. Spa appointments, especially for prime time, should be made several days in advance.


It's all about you

What: Happy New You package

Where: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, 905 Country Club Road, Ojai

Cost: $250 a night includes room and one spa treatment per person for each of two people; $180 for single occupancy

Info: (800) 422-6524 or (805) 646-5511, www.ojairesort.com

For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday March 08, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction Ojai photo -- An incorrect photo accompanied an article about the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Thursday's Calendar Weekend. The caption identified it as the Ojai establishment but what was actually shown was the Bacara Resort near Santa Barbara.
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