Here’s the part of Kelowna's Hotel Eldorado story you may not know | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Here’s the part of Kelowna's Hotel Eldorado story you may not know

The Hotel Eldorado was floated up Okanagan Lake from its original location on Eldorado Road to Cook Road before burning down.
Image Credit: Submitted/Old Kelowna, Sandy Kraft
February 01, 2021 - 7:00 AM

Kelowna's Hotel Eldorado has long been a social hot spot on Kelowna’s waterfront but not everyone knows the full history of how it was revitalized 30 years ago.

Built by Countess Bubna in 1926 it “became the town’s most sophisticated social hub,” according to the Hotel Eldorado’s website.

Despite being quite some distance for downtown Kelowna, it hosted weddings, Olympic athletes and dog shows and was once owned by Kelowna Mayor John Hindle.

READ MORE: International Women's Day: Hotel Eldorado founder put Kelowna on the map

The original Eldorado Hotel, late 1920s.
The original Eldorado Hotel, late 1920s.
Image Credit: Contributed/CITY OF KELOWNA

At that time, the hotel was was also in a different location, further to the south at 4519 Eldorado Rd.

By the 1980s it had fallen on hard times, went bankrupt and the property was sold to a developer who was going to tear down the building, Jim Nixon told iNFOnews.ca.

It was in 1988 when, almost by accident, Nixon bought the building for about $25,000 and saved it from demolition.

“I had the land at Cook Road and was going to do a townhouse type of thing but I wanted a bar,” Nixon told iNFOnews.ca. “The whole thing just sort of happened at the same time. I was working on a different project and that became available and it was just such a cool thing that I investigated moving it.”

By then, the hotel had been sitting empty for, Nixon thinks, three or four years.

He had Interior Movers jack it up and steel plates were brought in from Vancouver to use as a ramp. Wheels were secured underneath the building and a large truck hauled it onto a barge, which was supplied, for free, by Fletcher Challenge who, at that time owned what later became the Tolko mill in Kelowna.

Two of Fletcher Challenge’s tugboats hauled the hotel about three kilometres up the lake to its current location, next to the Cook Road boat launch.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing.

“We spent a few days before getting it ready and the actual move, with the barge, was supposed to happen at 8 in the morning but they didn’t get it on until 6 o’clock at night,” Nixon said. “Just at dusk we were hauling it in and we got stuck a couple of hundred yards offshore.”

This was on March 11, 1989, when the water level in Okanagan Lake was quite low.

The barge got stuck in shallow water so an excavator was brought in to dig a trench so it could make it to the shore.
The barge got stuck in shallow water so an excavator was brought in to dig a trench so it could make it to the shore.
Image Credit: Submitted/Old Kelowna, Sandy Kraft

The next day, they brought in an excavator that climbed onto the barge, dug out the lake bottom and pulled the barge onto shore.

By noon that day, the Eldorado Arms was safely back on shore, ready to move onto the foundation that had been poured.

It was just over a month later, April 19, 1989, that disaster struck and the hotel went up in flames.

“I live on a little farm overlooking the city,” Nixon said. “I could see it. I got a call very early in the morning. It was heartbreaking. We didn’t know what we were going to do. We were putting everything we had into it.”

The building, more than 60 years old by then with lots of dried out wood in it, was gutted and not salvageable.

Arson was suspected, possibly by a serial arsonist, Nixon said. No one was ever charged and arson was never proven.

Not that Nixon wasn’t suspected as well.

“Sure, you bet. I got slayed, man,” he said. “We didn’t have social media at that time. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if there was social media.”

In the end, insurance paid out and the new Hotel Eldorado was built. While it was modelled on the old Eldorado Arms, it was not the same.

The original was about 4,000 square feet on each of two floors plus an attic. It was about 13,000 square feet in total with 12 guest rooms.

With its destruction, Nixon lost his liquor licence, building permit and zoning. The liquor licencing branch had granted a licence for the historic hotel but required 20 rooms in a new one. He put the extra eight rooms in the attic of the new replica building.

He can't remember why the zoning was no longer appropriate but thinks it had something to do with the size of the new building or it not being a heritage structure.

The new hotel had to fit on the foundation that had already been laid so the same floor plan was followed but an addition was built on one end.

Nixon was able to open the brand new Hotel Eldorado for St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, 1990.

“It became a bigger and better project,” Nixon said. “At the end, 25 years later, I was pretty happy.”

It was in June of 2014 that he sold the hotel to Argus Properties owner Ted Callahan.

READ MORE: A new chapter begins in the storied life of the Hotel El

“I loved it there and the marina was so cool,” Nixon said. “It became such a locals’ hangout. I had no intention of selling but Ted just kept coming and coming.”

Before the Eldorado, Nixon built McCulloch Station Pub, in 1985. He’s done a number of other projects in Kelowna and his son, Kyle, owns BNA Brewing Co.

While he talks business with his son on a regular basis, Nixon said he’s no longer “physically responsible” for anything and “I’m retired as much as I want to be.”

The hotel when Nixon sold it in 2014.
The hotel when Nixon sold it in 2014.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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