The Darling Hotel in Visalia gets approval for 1920s era signage, announce name of rooftop restaurant and lounge
By Reggie Ellis
VISALIA – The most anticipated reclamation project in downtown Visalia history is closer to opening than you might think.
Last week was a busy one for the 4 Creeks crews working on transforming the abandoned art deco building at the Corner of Court and Center streets into a Roaring 20s-themed hotel known as The Darling. The 32-room boutique hotel will feature luxury and junior suites as well as standard rooms in the first home of the Tulare County Courthouse.
Last Monday, Feb. 10, The Darling’s vintage-era signage received its final approval from the Visalia Planning Commission. The Darling’s signs will include wall signs that are 18 feet six inches wide by 2 feet tall for a total of 37 square feet facing both Court and Center streets as well as a canopy sign that is 7 feet six inches wide by 9 inches tall for a total of 5 square feet. The signs had already been approved by the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee in August. The signs required an additional vote by the Planning Commission because they exceeded the total signage area of 50 square feet in the downtown area. Staff recommended the variance due to the building’s larger size in comparison to most of the structures downtown.
Matt Ainley, lead developer on the project, said signs should begin going up in the coming weeks and that passers-by will begin to notice other finishing touches start to come together, such as landscaping. Inside, he said they are ready to begin installing carpet.
“All of the furniture is being stored in a warehouse and waiting to be moved in,” Ainley said.
On Saturday, Feb. 15, The Darling posted the following on Instagram: “We’re excited to introduce @elderwoodvisalia , our rooftop restaurant & lounge! An environment that matches the view and local ingredients that highlight what the Central Valley has to offer.”
The restaurant and lounge will have a farm to fork feel with seasonal dishes and drinks that have a local flavor dominating the menu. It will also be operated by local restaurateurs who will be announced at a later date, Ainley said. The name Elderwood was not chosen for the Ainley family’s ranch in the unincorporated community north of Woodlake, although Matt said he’s certainly not complaining about the happy coincidence. In actuality, the name was one that locals would know and held a name that seemed representative of the hardworking, salt of the earth nature of Tulare County.
“It’s a nice nod to our family history but it’s also something everyone will recognize as representative of the area,” Ainley said.
Ainley said the decision to shift from lounge to a full restaurant slightly delayed the project’s timeframe but that his teams have been working around the clock to hold its soft opening sometime in May. The restaurant will still play off the art deco theme of the building but also have a more industrial feel to it with exposed concrete and its location in the former mechanical pit of the hotel. The area once served home to the old boiler and chiller systems used to heat and cool the 1930s era hotel. Ainley said more than 180,000 pounds of metal was taken out of the rooftop housing to make room for the restaurant.
“It’s the behind-the-scenes part of the Valley, where hardworking people make things happen,” Ainley said.
Those eagerly wanting to stay at the new centerpiece of downtown should be able to book rooms soon. Ainley said they are preparing to begin taking reservations on their own site and other lodging sites for both rooms and meeting spaces. The Darling will offer upscale meeting rooms and events for 50-60 people in its conference room, 100-150 in the courtyard and 50-100 people on the roof.
The hotel is owned by Courthouse Square Ventures, a limited liability company comprised of Matt, his brother Bob Ainley, as well as the Mouw, Robertson and Largoza families. For more information or updates on The Darling’s progress, visit TheDarlingVisalia.com.
– This article was updated at 9:18 a.m. PST on Feb. 19, 2020.