Several lodging facilities in Three Rivers have changed hands recently. Comfort Inn and Suites is under new ownership as of June 2017; Sierra Lodge completed its sale last month.
Now, Buckeye Tree Lodge has sold in a transaction that was finalized last week. The new owners are a husband-and-wife team from West Hollywood, Paul “Christian” Lewis and Shannon Lewis.
Buckeye Tree Lodge is located within a quarter mile of the Sequoia National Park entrance station. It is the closest lodging facility to the park.
At a gathering at the property on Friday, Feb. 2, the new owners were joined by outgoing owners Dennis and Stacie Villavicencio and previous owner Bruce Carr.
Bruce, who in 1982 purchased the portion of the property on the river adjacent to The Gateway Restaurant and Lodge that is today Buckeye Tree Lodge, who now resides in Visalia, came to celebrate the historic occasion with owners past and present. When Carr and his then-wife
Lydia first owned and operated the motel property, it was called the Park Line Motel, he said.
As far as any of the past owners remember, the original Park Line Motel, now the main building of Buckeye Tree Lodge, was opened in the 1940s. It was built, owned, and operated by Harold and Rose Beck of Three Rivers.
Bruce Carr purchased the property in 1982 from Don and Judy King who owned the Park Line Motel for a couple of years prior to Carr’s purchase.
“It was Lydia who came up with the name Buckeye Tree Lodge in 1985, and it’s been known by that name ever since,” Bruce recalled.
The Carrs owned the property for the next two decades until it was purchased by Dennis Villavicencio in 2004. In 2005, Buckeye Tree consolidated with Sequoia Village Inn across the highway as one lodging operation when Dennis purchased Sequoia Village Inn from Curt Nutter, a former Three Rivers resident.
Over the years, new construction has added more units to both properties. The two properties now total 22 units, consisting of motel rooms, a residence, and rustic chalets.
Dennis upgraded the water to a new sand filtration system that meets State of California standards and also added arrays of solar panels to make the property’s energy consumption more efficient.
These upgrades enhanced the value of the property, the new owners said. Also, the spike in park visitors in recent years was an attraction too.
Owing to its location just outside the Ash Mountain entrance station, Buckeye Tree Lodge has always been one of the premiere lodging properties in Three Rivers since its first rooms opened 70 years ago. It remains a desirable property to operate or to book for a Sequoia National Park vacation.
Curiously, all three of the principal owners since the 1980s — the Carrs, the Villavicencios, the Lewises — were all about the same age (late 30s) when they purchased the property.
New owner Christian Lewis, 38, grew up speaking English in Brazil. He came to the U.S. in 1997 to attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., where he earned an undergraduate degree in engineering.
Next, he attended the prestigious Hotel School at Cornell University where he earned his Master’s degree. He has worked in the hotel/hospitality industry and for the past eight years been employed by Kimpton Revenue Management Group.
Kimpton operates upscale boutique hotels with fine dining and spas. Their flagship properties in the Los Angeles area include the Kimpton Hotel Palomar Los Angeles Beverly Hills and the Kimpton Wilshire Hotel. Christian is currently divesting himself from Kimpton, but the experience will prove invaluable. The Three Rivers purchase marks the couple’s first venture in their own business as lodging property owners.
Shannon is a certified yoga instructor and plans to create a studio in an outbuilding formerly used as a fitness room at Buckeye Tree.
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“I wanted to rebalance my life to spend more time with my family before Anna and Maverick grow up and before Stacie and I grow old,” said Dennis about his reasons for selling the property. “I have invested an amazing amount of time, energy, and money into the Buckeye Tree Lodge and Sequoia Village Inn properties and now it is time to reap some of those investments and enjoy a break before going back into the full-time practice of law.”
The new owners are currently living in one of the lodging units but are house hunting in Three Rivers.
“Without a doubt, Dennis has operated the property with a high level of maintenance during the 13 years he owned the property,” Christian said. “Finding a seller we could trust made the critical difference for us. We’re loving it here in Three Rivers and excited to be part of a true community.”