Merced County Times Newspaper
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El Capitan Hotel Reemerges With Modern Splendor


A magnificent new exterior of the historic El Capitan Hotel was revealed this week in downtown Merced.

The building at the corner of Main and M streets has been undergoing a $15 million renovation — part of a trio of restoration projects within a block’s distance, including the recently opened apartment complex, The Tioga, and The Mainzer theater and restaurant.

On Tuesday, a construction crew added a glamorous new modern sign that sits vertically above the Main Street side of the building like a blade that reaches from the roof down to the first floor of guest rooms. As night fell, the sign’s lettering glowed with life in neon green.

Mercedians will be happy to know that the old art deco El Capitan sign — the one that hung over the M Street side of the building for decades — is being restored and will be placed in its familiar location in the weeks to come.

The hotel itself is expected to open in the first part of 2021.

“The El Capitan will offer an exciting opportunity for adventure and re-discovery of California’s Central Valley,” said Robin Donovan, managing director of El Capitan and Mainzer. “Merced is a vibrant town ready to welcome guests with a classic American Main Street, iconic turn-of-the-century architecture and easy access to nearby attractions.”

The original El Capitan Hotel, built in 1912, was a major 17th Street icon in a small town. After a fire in 1931, the hotel annex on M Street was reconstructed around 1936.

Today, the new four-story, 114-room El Capitan — now a Joie de Vivre Hotel — will feature both the historically preserved “annex” wing and a newly constructed Main Street extension, with a courtyard facing M Street.

The guest rooms – including three one-bedroom suites and nine junior suites, with corner rooms offering prime views of downtown – will capture the frontier spirit of early California and the American West.

El Capitan is being reimagined by renowned San Francisco-based interior design studio Nicole Hollis. Inspired by the golden warmth of the valley, the guest rooms and public spaces will use natural, hand-crafted materials and textures to evoke the surrounding landscape and draw the outside in.

The hotel’s original materials such as terracotta flooring, beadboard wall paneling, and heritage-style lighting will be used to recall the site’s historic past. Art deco and Spanish Revival influences will be found throughout the property, as well as architectural elements inspired by a 19th century train depot, underscoring the history of Merced as a transportation hub. Additionally, the hotel’s artwork will celebrate the agricultural and cultural traditions of the region.

The hotel will offer three distinct dining options that celebrate the bounty of the Central Valley, one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions.

The property’s signature restaurant, Rainbird, will serve approachable meals with dishes incorporating ingredients sourced from local farms, ranches and growers. Offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, Rainbird is named after the farming tradition that birds’ flight patterns can predict weather.

Native Son, named for the famed climbing route in Yosemite National Park, will be a more casual 30-seat café and bar, situated at the corner of Main Street. Native Son will transition from a café during the day to a free-spirited, community bar in the evening. Floor to ceiling windows and an architecturally inspired street entrance make it an inviting destination for locals and guests seeking a vibrant stay.

The hotel’s open-air courtyard will house a café offering light bites and cocktails.

El Capitan will offer more than 3,000 square feet of dedicated meeting and event spaces, including a large courtyard. With indoor and outdoor facilities, the property will be able to accommodate groups from intimate meetings to stylish social events and heartfelt weddings.

For more information on El Capitan and to make a reservation, visit

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