A Repurposed Tioga Hotel in Merced, California

One of the great late-1920s California hotels has found new life – as apartments aimed at college students and young professionals.

The Tioga Hotel, the largest building in Merced, Calif., was designed in 1928 as a midway point for city-dwellers traveling from Los Angeles and the Bay Area for a visit to Yosemite.

It was a destination unto itself. “I compare it to the Biltmore in downtown Los Angeles – it’s high-style, with a beautiful design,” says Carolyn Kiernat, architect of record for its renovation. “It has a quality you wouldn’t expect to see in the Central Valley of California.”

Even Marilyn Monroe thought so. She reserved her own small suite in the hotel for years.

Alas, downtown Merced eventually waned in popularity, and the hotel became home for low-income elderly in 1980. That is, until Nuovo Real Estate out of Denver, acquired the property, and began its revitalization.

“The tenants were living in single-room occupancy, and there were only a handful when we came on the job,” she says. “We relocated them to a better place – they were elderly who shouldn’t have been living on their own.”

Then she and her colleagues got to work, redesigning the floorplan to accommodate 70 units ranging from studios for students to two-bedrooms for small families or young professionals.

The hotel’s grand lobby had been subdivided into three separate rooms, so they removed the walls and mezzanine floor levels. “Now the main hall is a gathering space – the hub of the building, with tables for studying, a café for coffee service and social gathering – once we’re all able to do that again,” she says. “The mezzanine space is being built out as co-working space and for events, and there’s a ping-pong table, a TV viewing area and space for cooking events.”

They restored public spaces to their original splendor, and updated the apartments for a more contemporary look. “We didn’t want a historic feel for the residences, but a fresh, new feel for the 21st century,” she says.

So outside and in the lobby, it’s 1928 again. But inside the apartments, it’s an updated 2020.

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