“Space Aged Luxury at Down To Earth Prices.” That was once the motto of the Astro Motel in downtown Santa Rosa, California. And while this motel’s once distinctly modern design is now truly vintage, the newly remodeled establishment, renamed The Astro, offers an utterly unique experience for travelers, not to mention cyclists, in Northern California’s wine country.
Words and images by James Startt, European Associate to PELOTON
Recently conceived by New York City developer Eric Anderson and his childhood friend, Giro d’Italia winner Andy Hampsten, The Astro is quickly making a name for itself in the area.
Originally built during the hotel/motel development bubble in the late 1950s and early ’60s, the futuristic-themed motel was designed to be become part of a nationwide chain, with plans for more than 200 motels around the country. But those plans were lost in space when the market quickly collapsed and barely a dozen Astros actually saw the earthly light of day.
And of those still existing, the one in Santa Rosa is the crown jewel, because it brings together the tastes of a venerable furniture collector and a world-renowned cyclist. But for both of them The Astro has become nothing short of a passion project.
Ignored for decades, The Astro, like much of the SOFA—or south of A street—neighborhood in Santa Rosa, had been largely ignored and overwhelmed by poverty, prostitution and drugs. Anderson, however, remembered this part of town from his childhood with fondness and was committed to being part of its regeneration.
He started with a restaurant, the Spinster Sisters, one of the first new businesses, along with numerous art galleries, to locate in SOFA. And as the revitalization continued, he understood that The Astro could become the hub of the district’s newfound life.
Enter longtime friend Hampten. Aware that Santa Rosa was ideally positioned for great rides through the Napa and Somoma valleys, Anderson encouraged the Amercian cycling legend to join him and Hampsten quickly agreed.
“Eric thrives on the social interactions people experience in surroundings,” Hampsten tells PELOTON. “My favorite example is from the ’90s when I visited him in NYC at his home at 1st and 1st. There is a tiny park in front of his house. It was a filthy drug dealer’s meeting place, but he convinced the city through his neighborhood association to let him build a kiosk to sell food and to rebuild the playground. His point was to fill the space with neighbors, and the needles and thugs would go away. And that is what happened.”
“Now he is focusing on his childhood hometown that I also love,” Hampsten continues. “Santa Rosa is a wonderful location to ride, eat and sample wines from. The Astro is at the heart of town and near the bike path. More importantly it is ready to heal as a community, a modest and obtainable town that is not overly cute and expensive.”
One of the outstanding features of The Astro is its utterly unique feel, as each room is decorated differently. And in many ways the hotel is a direct extension for Anderson’s deep collection of mid-century modern furniture. And it is from his collection, that each room is inspired.
“We have two shipping containers of furniture in the back that Eric has collected,” says Sam Hamby, the motel’s general manager, a former bike-shop manager and musician. And it is from Anderson’s collection that each room is decorated. As a result no two rooms are alike. In fact they are ever-changing works in progress. And to keep the rotation active, everything you see at The Astro can be purchased. You like the hip formica table? It’s yours! You like the bed you just slept in? It’s yours!
“I just love decorating the rooms and getting to work with all of this cool furniture and artwork in this cool space,” says Hamby. “I just love seeing each room. There are so many cool things in each room and I will still walk into a room and say to myself, ‘Gee, I don’t think I have been in here yet!'”
While Hampsten loved Anderson’s sense of design, he wanted to make sure that the hotel was bike friendly, so that cyclists could easily come and profit from the area. As a result there is bike storage for a full fleet of specially designed Shinola town bikes. Meanwhile the general lounge area, where residents often meet and mingle over coffee and baked goods served each day, is equipped with a Park bike stand and all the necessary tools. “I managed a bike shop for six years and take care of a lot of things,” adds Hamby. “And if the job is too big I know where to send people.”
While The Astro reopened to great fanfare last month, there were plenty of challenges. “Dealing with 1960s’ plumbing,” Hamby insists, was not easy. But by far the greatest challenge came from the wrath of forest fires last October that destroyed so much of the community, rendering hundreds of local residents instantly homeless. So, even before the doors reopened, The Astro was being used to house victims of the fires. Suddenly a hotel that was only partially open was bursting at full occupancy. “Going from a soft opening to a full house before we were even open gave us a lot of time to test the waters. But it got us up to speed very quickly and it was just awesome to see the community come together. People were bringing in food to help people out who lost their homes. It was just amazing,” Hamby says.
But while the motel is now officially opened, Hamby insists that it is never going to be finished: “It’s an ongoing project. Sometimes we see that the perfect rug for one room is in another, but that room is occupied so we have to wait until both rooms are free. It’s never-ending. But that is what is so exciting!”