In the two months between October 8 and December 9 last year, California was hit with approximately 270 wildfires, which burned more than 250,000 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Dozens died and nearly 10,000 buildings were destroyed, and the hardest-hit city was Santa Rosa. One of Sonoma County's most LGBT-friendly destinations, Santa Rosa lost a lot of homes and businesses -- and residents.
Just as Santa Rosa (and nearby cities in California's wine country -- Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties) faced disaster, the ambitious remodel of a 1963 motor lodge in Santa Rosa, the Astro motel, came to life.
Above: Courtesy of Astro
Founded by chef Liza Hinman and the team behind her much-beloved Sonoma County restaurant, the Spinster Sisters, the Astro was a blight for decades until the recent remodel by artists and artisans. Located in exquisite Juilliard Park, the Astro is set in the South A Street Arts District (SOFA) close to downtown and outfitted with mid-century mod furnishings, an urban garden (reclaiming the site of a former parking lot), and numerous amenities geared toward cyclists.
When the fires hit, the Astro responded not by delaying its planned January 2018 opening, but by requesting special permission from the city of Santa Rosa to open immediately and fill their rooms with evacuees.
"Once our soft opening began, on October 27, we applied for and received FEMA eligibility, and began housing folks who had lost their homes, at no charge to them," says Astro's Lizzie Simon (the author of the acclaimed 2002 memoir Detour). "Currently about a third of our rooms are devoted to FEMA-eligible fire survivors. Everyone involved in the project -- from construction to design to housekeeping to management -- is local, so putting our community first is instinctive."
Above: Courtesy of Astro
The Astro already has several LGBT staffers as well, says Simon. "We're in Santa Rosa's arts neighborhood and have always attracted an LGBTQ staff and clientele," she says of the restaurant and motel.
Owner Hinman, one of 100 female chef-restaurateurs selected for the inaugural James Beard Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Program in 2017, isn't the only star behind the Astro. Andrew Hampsten, the only American cyclist to win the Giro d'Italia, was an investor in the motel, which explains the great bike offerings from on-site repairs to bike tours of nearby wineries. Only minutes from the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, the Astro is perfectly situated to take advantage of a car-free path through downtown and on to longer, more adventurous local trails. (TheAstro.com)