Harbin Hot Springs was one of the most visibly dramatic losses from September's Valley Fire for those in the Bay Area who did not live in or know Lake County too well the unprecedentedly fast and voracious fire destroyed 1,280 homes, 27 multifamily structures, and 66 commercial properties according to CalFire, most of them in the small towns of Middletown, Hidden Valley, and Cobb. But the longtime, popular, mostly nude hot-springs resort was the most well known destination in the area, and had been hosting some 500 guests when the fire arrived on September 12. Now San Francisco Magazine has published a great and lengthy piece about the diaspora that the fire has created among Harbin's formerly 245-person-strong staff and 65 full-time residents, and what the immediate plans are for the place.
We learn that they have signed a contract with Seattle-based green architecture firm Mithun to head up the design of a reconceived, rebuilt resort the former conglomeration of buildings had taken shape over the resort's 150-year lifespan, some of them built after it became a hippie mecca in the late 1960's and 70's, but staffers now realize they can start from scratch, with only the pools still intact.
One present concern is the potential mudslides and creek flooding from an El Niño winter, which they've already taken precautions against with wattles along the hillside to protect against too much erosion. But according to Harbin managing director Julie Adams, who's been at the resort 30 years, this may not be a concern at all. She says,
It'll never be the same. I look at it, I see the ghosts of buildings that were there. So I need to wipe my visual slate. I hope it just rains like hell this winter. The land is gonna slide around and be in different places, and the water is determined to flow down the hill, and we need to find a way to direct that. I really want to let that creek loose. I wanna let it be free, to run through the way it’s supposed to.
Also, Adams is hoping that they could possibly put some bodyworkers, cooks and other staff back to work by May, with a partial reopening of the place for guests. "It’s not based on anything but hope and spit," she cautions, but she and others are hoping that the cold- and hot-water pools will be usable again by then the hot waters from the underground springs have, by the way, never stopped flowing, despite some broken and/or melted pipes.
The resort just posted this video below on December 4th, a visual eulogy of sorts, which includes some pictures taken just days before the fire that haven't been seen before by guests or residents, saying that "The discussion about Harbin 2.0 is definitely underway," but that this is a way for longtime pilgrims there to "hold in our thoughts the quality of care and the years of dedication that allowed Harbin to blossom."
As the SF Mag piece reaches way back, you learn that this place has basically always been a "resort" of some kind through human history, visited and bathed in by the Miwok and other tribes for 3,000 years before the Spanish and other settlers came along. And it's bound to continue to be for a long time with just this short break, returning in a new form that will only be recognizable by the water.
Previously: Harbin Hot Springs Vows To Rebuild