Nancy Cline: A respect for history and community
By SUZIE RODRIGUEZ / Sonoma Valley Correspondent
Sonoma’s Fred and Nancy Cline are best known for their two wineries, Cline Cellars and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. In recent years they have also gained a reputation for elegant, small-scale destination properties: the Villa at Cline Cellars, Dillon Beach Resort, and Villa Laura in Italy.
Last year the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, Nevada—midway between Reno and Las Vegas, at the intersection of U. S. Routes 6 and 95—joined the Cline’s hospitality roster. A hotel in the middle of a merciless desert may seem like an odd choice amidst such a glamorous lineup. However, its inclusion highlights the underlying framework of most Cline endeavors: a respect for history and community.
“Tonopah offered an immense opportunity to understand and empathize with the people who came before us,” Nancy Cline said. “This project has so much authenticity. It’s not Vegas or Disneyland. It’s not anything except real history.”
Part of that history involves Nancy’s own family, which has roots dating back to Tonopah’s earliest years.
Around 6,000 feet high in the San Antonio Mountains, Tonopah was the site of Nevada’s last great silver boom, in 1900. Among the buildings suddenly springing up in the empty patch of desert was the luxurious 5-story Mizpah Hotel. It became the place to be seen during the boom years, and when the bubble burst it remained at the heart of Tonopah life.
One of Tonopah’s early arrivals had been Harry Ramsey, Nancy’s great uncle, who owned a saloon across the street from the Mizpah and reportedly made a fortune buying and selling silver mines. He was later joined by his sister, Emma, Nancy’s grandmother, who served as postmistress of nearby Goldfield. Emma ultimately moved to the Bay Area, married, and gave birth to Nancy’s mother.
Inveterate desert-lovers, the Clines and their seven children, ages 14-24, have spent a lot of time traveling around western deserts. It wasn’t unusual for them to drive through Tonopah, which played such an impressive role in the family legend. They took note when the Mizpah Hotel closed for financial reasons in 2000, and, over the next decade, they were saddened by the building’s steady decline.
“When we saw it in such disarray,” Nancy said, “we felt that it was dishonoring the memory of people who had built it and spent time in it. The idea started to grow that we should fix up a structure that had been built with such integrity, such pride.”
So they did. In January 2011, the Clines purchased the hotel and its contents for $200,000 and began the renovation process. Since the building was structurally intact, most of the work was cosmetic. By August the hotel was ready for its soft opening, with Nevada governor Brian Sandoval on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon.
“We took a busload of people from Sonoma,” Nancy said. “It was one of the best weekends of my life. You get to feel both elements of the environment at the hotel–the hard desert life outside, a safe and beautiful haven inside.”
The Mizpah Hotel officially opened last fall, offering luxury in the desert with high-quality linens, spa toiletries, flat screen TV, complimentary wireless Internet service, and more. A gaming parlor, the Fun Palace, will soon be completed, and the reconstruction of a 1903 brewery is under construction.
The hotel has two restaurants. The value-oriented Pittman Cafe offers a special kids’ menu, along with burgers, salads, and a few surprises (Blackened Buffalo Steak or Fettuccine with Wild Boar Sugo). In the upscale Jack Dempsey Room, diners can opt for old favorites like steaks and trout, or try something new, such as Broken Arrow Ranch Antelope with Berry Glaze.
One of the Clines’ more ambitious revitalization projects was the three-year makeover of 500-year-old Villa Laura in Cortona, Italy–known to film buffs as Diane Lane’s Villa Bramasole in the 2003 movie, Under the Tuscan Sun.
“That place has an incredible history dating back to the 1400s,” Nancy said. “But it was in dismal shape when we bought it.”
During World War II the villa had been occupied by the Nazis, and after the Clines bought the property they discovered many Nazi-era coins on the grounds.
One of the family’s most unusual historic projects was their 1998 purchase of 21 large-scale hand-crafted models of the California Missions, originally made in 1939 for the World’s Fair on Treasure Island by a team of German cabinetmakers.
When Nancy learned that the models were to be auctioned off separately, “I just knew that keeping them together was the right thing to do.” She attended the auction and purchased all the models. In 2005 all twenty-one took up residence in a new museum built to house them at Cline Cellars. Admission to the California Missions Museum is free.
“Last year we had 4000 4th graders come through the museum,” Nancy said. “It’s so wonderful to have that for those kids to enjoy–it really is getting used and appreciated, just as we hoped.”
Asked what motivates her endeavors, Nancy laughs. “I’m the mother of seven children,” she said. “At some point I must have thought that, instead of caring for another child, maybe I should care for a building.”
This year, with their two youngest children attending high school in Italy, the Clines are spending most of the year in Europe.
“We’re taking a year as a family,” she said, “and it’s wonderful. But I miss the desert. I’m sure I’m the only person living in Paris who would rather be in Tonopah.”