The Darling hotel expands its brand

Photo by Rigo Moran

Ownership group plans to remodel adjacent building into more rooms, larger kitchen and conference center

VISALIA – Despite opening in the early days of the pandemic, The Darling hotel has seen rapid success reminiscent of its Roaring ‘20s motif.

The four-story boutique hotel with its rooftop lounge has risen to such heights in downtown Visalia it now needs more hotel rooms and a larger kitchen. Luckily the hotel has the room to grow thanks to an adjacent, single story building and parking lot ownership purchased from the county in the deal to buy and renovate the historic courthouse building at the corner of Court and Center streets in 2017.

Located at 100 E Center Ave., the 12,000 square foot annex building will be remodeled as additional hotel rooms, a conference facility, kitchen and even a liquor store. Matt Ainley, a member of the hotel’s ownership group Courthouse Square Ventures, recently filed plans to remodel the former Tulare County Probation offices adjacent to the hotel and emphasize its art deco style to match that of the main hotel.

Since opening in 2020, The Darling has captured the attention of the hotel industry, historic preservation community and locals alike. Just a year after opening, the hotel was ranked No. 19 on Tripadvisor’s list of the “25 Hottest New Hotels in the World” in May 2021. The hotel was awarded as part of the 2021 Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best awards from Tripadvisor, the world’s largest online travel platform. The ‘Hottest New Hotels’ list was composed of hotels that opened July 2019 or later and celebrate the most highly rated hotels based on quality and quantity of traveler reviews.

Later that same year, The Darling was presented with a prestigious Preservation Design Award for Rehabilitation at the 38th Annual California Preservation Awards. The winning projects highlighted innovative approaches to preservation.

“This project sought to respectfully revitalize a significant but forgotten piece of Visalia’s vibrant history with a strategy to celebrate existing elements at all scales, while honestly rehabilitating the building for modern purposes,” the judges wrote in their description of the project.

The four-story building was constructed in 1935 as an expansion of the original County Courthouse built in the 1880s. The 22,300 square foot modern structure is considered a gem of the Public Works Act of the New Deal with its art deco architecture and decor. The building housed the County Board of Supervisors, Treasury, Auditor, Assessor and Purchasing departments until 1952 when it became the acting Courthouse after the original courthouse was damaged by an earthquake, which was constructed in the 1880s at the corner of East Center Avenue and North Court Street in Visalia.

Tulare will get El Pollo Loco

Tulare will snag another big name drive-thru with El Pollo Loco filing preliminary plans for a location on Prosperity Avenue just down the street from In-N-Out and next to Tractor Supply. El Pollo Loco is the nation’s leading chicken chain known for its citrus-marinated, fire-grilled chicken and handcrafted entrees inspired by Mexican recipes.

Tulare is just one of 26 new locations the Mexican restaurant chain is planning to build. The development agreements for the new locations were announced by CEO Larry Roberts as part of the company’s first earnings report on March 29.

“As we look ahead, we believe that the initiatives we have put in place to further differentiate our brand and drive awareness with younger consumers, our improved restaurant operations and continued efforts to attract high quality franchisees to the El Pollo loco system will drive sales, unit and profit growth,” Robert said in a press release from El Pollo Loco Holdings, Inc., the publicly traded parent company of the restaurant chain.

The strategy seems to be working as highlights from the first quarter included increases in total revenue, comparable restaurant sales, income from operations, net income, and adjusted net income.

“We are encouraged by the start to 2023 and the progress we have made across our strategic pillars,” Robert stated. “For the first quarter, we achieved positive comparable restaurant sales despite unprecedented California weather and the lapping of our highly successful Beef Birria promotion.”

With more than 485 company-owned and franchised restaurants in Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, Utah, and Louisiana, El Pollo Loco is expanding its presence in key markets through a combination of company and existing and new franchisee development. For more information, visit

Industrial Park adds powerful tenant

Visalia developer Butch Oldfield has filed plans to lease about 8 acres to Viridity Energy to build an 80MW battery storage facility on Sunnyside Avenue west of Shirk Road. The battery storage plant would connect to the Southern California Edison substation at Shirk and Goshen Avenue and would help boost power for the area. The company says they will begin construction as soon as all approvals are met. Oldfield says prospects to get the energy facility built are good.

County home sales still sinking

Statistics from the Tulare County Realtors Association show existing home sales in the county continuing to sag as of April. A year ago, there were over 350 sales per month countywide, but now that is down to about 200 sales per month. In Visalia, home sales numbered just 100 in April, about half what they were a year ago; however, Visalia’s median home price has continued to climb in 2023 to $389,000, compared to about $300,000 a year ago.

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