Over the Hill

Paso Robles keeps adding giant new hotels to serve wine tourists

The Oxford Suites hotel under construction at 4th and Spring streets will bring 140 rooms to downtown Paso Robles.
The Oxford Suites hotel under construction at 4th and Spring streets will bring 140 rooms to downtown Paso Robles.

Paso Robles is the second-oldest incorporated city in this county, but Paso still keeps changing.

For several years now it’s been breaking out in a rash of new three- and four-story hotels. You can see many of these big, sprawling, recently built hotels in the vicinity of Paso Robles’ freeway exits.

Those hotels serve the swarms of wine tasters who are continually attracted by the North County’s ever-expanding vineyards. A five-story Oxford Suites hotel is being built right now on Fourth Street between Pine and Spring streets. Paso Robles’ big old almond processing plant once stood there. The 140-room hotel is expected to open early next year.

Almonds were an earlier major Paso Robles business that we old Paso Roblans get nostalgic about. That business is gone, but the next time you cross the Niblick Bridge going west, look up at those hills ahead of you. See those neglected rows of trees? They are old surviving almond trees.

Thousands of those trees used to bloom every spring. They beautified and perfumed Paso Robles for a few weeks.

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In 1924, when Paso was the “Almond Capital of the World," the city was surrounded by 26,000 almond trees for miles in every direction. Its last big crop was in 1979, at about 1 million pounds, and now most of the trees are gone.

The business of growing almonds was shifting to the San Joaquin Valley, where the trees could grow on flat land with irrigation. Around Paso Robles, they grew on dry hills and often produced a crop every other year.

But the Paso Robles almond-processing plant continued running, with nuts shipped in from the San Joaquin Valley. In 1984 it processed 33 million pounds of shelled almonds. When the plant finally shut down in 1986, it was employing almost 290 people.

It shut down because its owner, Tenneco West Inc., and the city of Paso Robles couldn’t agree on some planned improvements. They included two storage towers; each would have been 85 feet high, 40 feet wide and 60 feet long.

So Tenneco expanded its Bakersfield plant and the land on Fourth Street lay idle until now.

It’s no surprise that Paso Robles is getting another hotel.

Paso Robles has provided lodging for visitors since its beginning. It was founded at the site of one of the area’s hot sulfur springs, and people came from far away to bathe in and drink the hot mineral water for its supposed medicinal power.

The grand, elaborate El Paso De Robles Hotel and Hot Springs opened at that spring in 1891. That hotel was destroyed by fire in 1940. The present Paso Robles Inn was built on that site. It opened in 1942 and is still in business. I ate there last week.

There’s one last thing I should mention about Paso Robles’ lodgings.

A motel at the corner of Spring and First streets was allegedly the place where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio spent their wedding night in 1954.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to the Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades and his column appears every other week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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