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Desert Hot Springs will be a spa and resort once again

Murrieta Hot Springs will be a spa and resort once again

A Bible college and Christian retreat house for the last 26 years, the 46-acre site has been sold. Plans are barely in the works, but the new owners are committed to making the property a tourist designation again, much to the delight of Murrieta officials and southwest Riverside County. 


Thanks in part to the pandemic, Murrieta recently had a 43-acre spa, and the resort dropped into its lap.

Local officials have long wanted to see Murrieta Hot Springs – a natural hot springs that began attracting people from all over the western United States more than 100 years ago – transformed back into a major tourist destination.

Now, with new ownership, and renamed The Murrieta Hot Springs Resort & Spa, the property will again be a destination for out-of-town visitors.

“Murrieta Hot Springs has the potential to be the number one tourist attraction in southwest Riverside County,” said Scott Agajanian, Murrieta’s deputy director of economic development. “It could transform the entire market. I think it’s impossible to predict how much of an impact this project could have.”

For the past 26 years, the property – reportedly worth $50 million – was owned and operated by the Calvary Chapel Christian Center and Bible College, which has used the site for retreats, seminars, and classroom instruction.

But COVID-19 convinced Calvary Chapel officials that they should sell the facility. They did not need a large resort to conduct their activities, said Scott Agajanian, Murrieta’s deputy director of economic development.

Olympus Real Estate Holdings LTD, the owner of The Springs Resort & Spa in Pagosa Springs, Colo., bought the Murrieta Hot Springs for an undisclosed sum.

The property remains in escrow, said Justin A. Esayian, senior vice president with The Hoffman Co., in Irvine and the project’s listing agent.

Multiple suitors emerged last year when it became known the former resort was up for sale. Murrieta, which is committed to bringing more tourism jobs and tourism-generated dollars into the region, identified Olympus last year as a “strong potential candidate” to purchase and redevelop the property, according to a staff report released in June.

Murrieta offered a major incentive to help make sure a deal between Olympus and Calvary was reached: the city agreed to a 15-year, 50-50 split of the transit occupancy tax with the resort management company.

During that 15-year period, the resort and spa are expected to generate $29.9 million in transit occupancy tax revenue, of which Murrieta would receive about $14.9 million, according to the staff report.

After that, Murrieta will get all of the revenue generated by the resort and spa’s transit occupancy tax, as cities routinely do. By year 15, when the agreement expires, the resort and spa are expected to pump about $50 million into the local economy, the staff report states.

The city would also receive sales tax revenue from dining, retail, and spa development, and revenue created by more tourist traffic. Murrieta will not share any of that revenue with Olympus.

The plan is to begin converting the property into a resort next June after the Bible College has completed its academic year. The conversion is expected to take approximately two years, Agajanian said.

Details regarding what changes might be made to the property haven’t been announced. Officials with the new ownership group did not return calls seeking comment.

Done correctly, a modern Murrieta Hot Springs could be a major tourist destination, one that could easily attract people from Northern California, Nevada, and Mexico.

“I think ‘ambitious’ is the right word for what we’re going to do here,” Agajanian said. ”It’s a huge undertaking.”

It’s also a return to Murrieta’s past.

Located on the east side of the city in the 39000 block of Murrieta Hot Springs Road, Murrieta Hot Springs was purchase in 1902 by Fritz Guenther, a German immigrant who moved to New York after escaping the Franco-Prussian War.

During the next 30 years, Guenther and his family developed Murrieta Hot Springs into a world-class attraction. In 1950, Webster Avenue has renamed Murrieta Hot Springs Road so patrons would have an easier time finding the site.

In the 1970s, the Guenther family sold Murrieta Hot Springs to Irvin Kahn, an attorney, and real estate developer, for $1.35 million. Kahn, who visited the resort and spa as a child, oversaw upgrades and an expansion of the facility.

In 1983, a 300-member organization called Alive Polarity bought the resort and turned it into a commune that prohibited meat, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and television. Members, most of whom had given up their careers and committed their lives to the commune, lived in the hotel rooms, ate in the cafeteria, and maintained the property.

Following that, the resort was briefly a cancer clinic. In 1995, it was bought by Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, which upgraded and maintained the property while preserving much of its historic characteristics, according to the city history of the site.

Now it’s on its way back to being a tourist destination in a market that already attracts its share of tourist dollars. In 2019, Riverside County had nearly $4 million in taxable sales related to travel, according to a study commissioned by Visit California, a non-profit in Sacramento that promotes state tourism.

That was 9.8 percent of the $40.6 million in taxable sales the county generated that year, the study found.

A restored and modernized resort would add much to those numbers, said Patrick Ellis, president, and chief executive officer of the Murrieta-Wildomar Chamber of Commerce.

“It could have a huge financial impact, and not just with tourists,” said Ellis, who is also the chief executive officer of the chamber’s Explore Murrieta, which promotes tourism in southwest Riverside County. “It attracted a lot of people in the 1920s and 1930s, and it would attract a lot of people today.”

Rumors have circulated that Olympus might build two hotels on the site – one it would own, the other it would lease – but nothing has been confirmed, according to Ellis.

“You’re talking about 40 acres near Interstate 15,” Ellis said. “There’s a lot of potential and a lot of possibilities.”

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  1. Congratulations but please preserve the hot springs. I believe the Monarch butterflies are attracted to the springs

  2. This is great news! Looking forward to the hot springs. When is this all going to take place? How long?

    • Theresa M Matthews

      The plan is to begin converting the property into a resort next June after the Bible College has completed its academic year. The conversion is expected to take approximately two years, Agajanian said.
      The two sentences you missed reading.

    • As a local, I’m excited to see the grounds become something for the public to enjoy. I’m looking forward to the opening.

    • The last class for Calvary is in June 2023. Then the project is expected to take 2 years. At least !

    • The last class for Calvary is in June 2023. Then the project is expected to take 2 years. At least !

      Please keep as many of the Mature trees as posdibke

  3. Our family would drive to Murrieta Hot Springs from Los Angeles for a day trip many times a year when I was a child in the 1950’s. We would enjoy a healthy lunch (I remember the rhubarb!) at the large restaurant, and then swim in the afternoon in the beautiful turquoise swimming pool. At that time, we were in the midst of a polio epidemic, so that the mineral pool was deemed as “okay” by my parents. The spa was filled with older folk, who played cards on the large front porch and who stayed in the small cottages surrounding the property. I can still smell the “rotten egg” odors from the drinking fountains and remember the mud baths that soothed many a visitor. My hope is to return to Murrieta when it is completed, now that I am one of the old people myself! So glad it is returning! Please let me know when it is ready!

  4. I’m heart broken Murrieta Conference Center was sold. It’s sad they couldn’t have gone into partnership with others Calvary Chapel Churches.

  5. What will happen to Murietta Tennis that play on the courts?

  6. When will this hotel be open for visitors

    • Theresa M Matthews

      The plan is to begin converting the property into a resort next June after the Bible College has completed its academic year. The conversion is expected to take approximately two years, Agajanian said. The two sentences you missed when reading.

      • My wish is that the Marietta Mineral Springs Resort will take sooner than two years to complete. I have chronic pain from accidents and sciatica and the mineral water really helps me . I hope there’s a newsletter that comes out that will let us know when it’s open again.

  7. Godwin Supramaniam

    Its sad Calvary Chapel sold it. The pandemic is only temporary. This piece of property has so much potential for God’s work. Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa should have explored teaming up with other ministires etc.

  8. Murrietta Hot Springs was the equivalent of the Catskills during the 40’s — a summer retreat where Los Angeles Jewish families escaped the city — fathers joined their families on the weekends and went back to work on week days. Hot baths, large swimming pool, poker games, slot machines, and light entertainment. Kosher was left behind.

    • I remember as a child going up in the summers. My aunt had a townhome right near the hot springs. I would invite a friend for the summer. While my mom played Pan (a Card game) and we joined my dad around the pool. Would go into the food hall at night for dinner. Then be entertained by a magician . I think his name was Tony. Great memories.

  9. For many years going to Calvary Chapel‘s women’s retreats such a beautiful property and so many wonderful memories I hope they keep the little chapel on the property and help many people will be blessed by sitting in the hot springs and looking at the beautiful surroundings GOD BLESS

  10. Are there plans to take over the elderly residences property’s? Considering they are between the resort and the golf course’

  11. Carla Villescas Sanchez

    Wonderfully Fabulous News! I pray we will be able to visit the original historic sites of 1904 and well as the beauty of 2024!

  12. Chris Mcgoldrick

    Looking forward to have the Murrieta Hot Springs open after all these years 😀.

  13. I worked in the spa there in the late 80’s. It’s a beautiful property and I can’t wait until it’s restored to its former glory for the general public!

    • I sure hope it’s completed soon I can’t wait forever. I’m getting old and the water really helps arthritis , at least for me. I grew up in the Los Angeles County area and there were a lot of hot springs around back then but they were all taken over by different groups or they burned down and were never restored. Some examples of other hot springs I used to go to were Soboba Hot Springs and La Vida Hot Springs. I am so glad that Murietta will be restored

  14. When???????

  15. Yay! I have always wanted to experience the
    waters there but was not allowed in unless i joined their creepy cult.

    • No need to lie. I was privileged to work at the Conference Center for a few years in the early to mid 2000’s. We routinely had guests stay on the property who had no affiliation with Calvary or any other church. During the weekdays it operated much like a hotel, guests rented available rooms and enjoyed the grounds. All you needed was a reservation and you could utilize the property. Definitely sad to see it sold off, lots of great memories there.

  16. I am so excited to read that my wonderful Murietta is going to be open again. We spent our honeymoon there in 1986. I hope it opens soon!

  17. I worked at Murrieta Hot Springs when I was a teenager. My parents knew the owners. 48 years later, I’m still in the hotel business.
    I consider myself to be very knowledgeable about the resort. I see postings about things that aren’t true. Every few years, I walk around the resort and long for the resort it once was. I’m so excited to see it open to the public again.

    In the late 60s Morris Shankar (owner of the Dune’s Hotel in Las Vegas bought the resort and built 7, two story hotel buildings that surrounded a small lake. They are still there today but no longer part of the resort..The two old hotel buildings that guest stay in now were employee housing, built in the late 1800 s. Thats were I lived . Remember, Murrieta was a very small town back then and limited housing.
    Many movie stars and celebrities stayed at the resort. It’ had fine dinning, coffee shop, bars, top rated Spa, movie theater, 4 tennis courts, club house, Trent Jones golf course and club house.. Nightly entertainment and Dancing under the stars near the pool.. gift shop, country market. It was a first class resort.
    In 1976 Mr Shanker filed bankruptcy and the doors closed. I was still working there at the time. Shortly after, a man by the name Rudd rented the resort and claimed he could cure cancer. 60 minutes did a sting operation and Mr Rudd was arrested for fraud and the resort closed again. I actually worked for this guy. Then alive polarity and then the Calvary Church.
    Over the years I have seen postings about rumors of Jimmy Hoffa being buried there. Mr Shanker and Hoffa were great friends! Mr Shanker was Hoffa’s attorney! Trust me, he’s not buried there.
    Looks like the resort will reopen this time next year? I’ll see you then! Can’t wait. Aimbridge Hospitality is managing the resort and they are already hiring.

    • Thank you for the history. I was wondering if you are aware if they plan on including the mud pool if I remember correctly? It was early 90s that I stayed there and have some recollection of getting into some type of mud bath.. any information would be helpful. Thank you again.. looking forward to the spa re-opening.

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