Long, long ago
For millennia before Europeans arrived in California, the valley where Glen Ivy is located was a seasonal home to clans of three semi-nomadic tribes. These peaceful indigenous hunter-gatherers, who the Spaniards called the Luiseño, Gabrieleño, and Cahuilla, traveled and lived within the valley at various times of the year.
To these Native Americans the Earth itself was sacred; it was their church or cathedral. The site of a hot springs provided a special place to celebrate rites of passage and renewal, and to be thankful to the Great Spirit. The warm soothing waters had spiritual power to heal body, mind, and spirit. By creek-side, where the hot water bubbled to the surface, they built sweat lodges for rites of purification. These low, dome-shaped mud and branch huts were called “hashlach.” Spaniards preferred to call them “temescal,” the Aztec word for sweat lodge, which is how Temescal Valley got its name.
The indigenous live oak trees provided the primary carbohydrate of their diet. Acorns were boiled, leeching out the bitterness and leaving an edible food which was dried and ground into powder in stone metates, then cooked as gruel or formed into flat cakes for baking. Metates and their companion grinding stones, “manos,” have been found on the Glen Ivy property.
19th Century: A Spa is Born
The coming of Spanish landowners certainly disturbed the lives of local native people, but nothing changed California more quickly and massively before or since than the discovery of gold in 1849. The population exploded with westward migration and the Golden State entered the Union in 1850. The quiet rural lands near Temescal Sulfur Springs, as Glen Ivy Hot Springs was known prior to the 1880s, were affected too. For three years beginning in 1858 the Butterfield Overland Mail wagons rushed through Temescal Valley. Abraham Lincoln was campaigning for President when these natural waters were first advertised in the Los Angeles Star on September 8, 1860. There were then 33 states, only white male adults could vote, and 4 million people were slaves. Glen Ivy’s early decades spanned from horseback and railroad to automobile and airplane as it grew from rustic oasis to spa resort.
For the rest of the 19th Century and into the 20th, owners with names like Thorndyke, Sayward, Steers, and Mitchell patterned what was to come. The first country inn to later carry the name Glen Ivy Hot Springs was an adobe construction dating from the 1870s and The Plunge from the 1880s. During the ten years William Steers managed Glen Ivy it became a resort, drawing people from Los Angeles, San Diego, and the closer towns of Corona, Riverside and Lake Elsinore. The price of a swim in the mineral waters back then was just 25¢, including bathing suit and towel!
Glen Ivy Hot Springs
It was most likely William’s wife Louisa Steers who conceived the name Glen Ivy Hot Springs in the late 1880s. The Steers were from England where a canyon is often called a “glen.” Growing in glorious profusion at the mouth of Coldwater Canyon were vines of wild grape ivy. Although no one knows for certain how it happened, one could imagine Mrs. Steers out one morning walking up Coldwater Creek to bathe when suddenly the name “Glen Ivy” leapt into her mind. The poetic new name, Glen Ivy Hot Springs, reflected a physical fact unique to the mouth of the canyon where the hot springs originate.
Into the 20th Century
When Frank and Mabel Johnson purchased the property in 1913, Glen Ivy began to come into its own. After lean start-up years, they completed expanding the old adobe into a real hotel by 1922, and built a concrete bathhouse in 1927. They ushered the transition from wood stove and oil lamps to natural gas and electric lights. Automobiles brought Glen Ivy Hot Springs even closer to a burgeoning Los Angeles population. The Johnson’s were visionaries, natural builders and growers, tending seeds sown in the previous half century and coaxing them to harvest. They raised their family and welcomed the world to this special place. In the Johnson’s time, Southern California fell in love with Glen Ivy.
Glen Ivy Hot Springs’ reputation for healing waters and comfortable service spread and the Johnsons’ dreams were becoming realized. Glen Ivy Hot Springs flourished. In addition to the hotel and bath house, they built guest cottages and more mineral baths, and added 30 acres of citrus trees. Momentum faltered, however, and business took a downward turn as the 1930s Great Depression deepened. Franklin’s health began to fail as well, and in 1937 Danish hotelier Axel Springborg took over management of the property and business, and then bought Glen Ivy from the Johnsons in 1942. By then, America was embroiled in World War II and Glen Ivy’s development paused for the duration. By the end of the war, however, a whole new California was ready to flex its muscles and a new Glen Ivy Hot Springs was about to debut.
Axel Springborg had a gift for marketing and sales, and the entrepreneurial drive and skill to make the most of the assets the Johnsons had improved or created. He transformed Glen Ivy further into a destination resort in the prosperous post-war 1940s and 50s. A dirt airstrip welcomed local pilots and their guests, and the hotel restaurant gained acclaim for Springborg’s Sunday smorgasbords. It was a successful time for Glen Ivy Hot Springs, as Axel read, led, and rode the trends.
As the 1960s unfolded, new, stricter building and safety codes came into effect. Labor-intensive hospitality businesses became more costly to operate. Springborg chose to go out on top, and in 1964 he sold the property to Corona-based Temescal Water Company. The Water Company management made a serious effort to modernize the aging resort, but couldn’t make a go of it. The property then passed through other hands, unsuccessfully, and in the mid-70s, badly vandalized, the property defaulted to Springborg’s ownership.
In 1977 a new ownership group brings the standout features Glen Ivy is known for including the Lounge Pool (1984), Club Mud, The Grotto (2002), and Under the Oaks (2007). In 1999 the present Bath House was opened, the Roman Baths added to it in 2001, and the whole building upgraded and enlarged in 2005 to accommodate more guests. In 2006 Café Solé opened serving fare from acclaimed chef Bill Wavrin. The rooftop Solé Terrace and Cabañas have been delighting guests since then too. Along with new pools and deck areas, treatment capacity was gradually raised to the present 72 rooms/stations in 5 buildings.
Glen Ivy Reborn
GOCO Hospitality acquired Glen Ivy Hot Springs in January 2016, and plans to develop a world-class wellness resort community on the adjacent land that is surrounded by organic orchards, Santa Ana Mountains national preserve, and a golf course. The immediate investment will be used to enhance the current hot springs spa and set the stage for future expansion. Touching on the hot springs storied past, GOCO Hospitality intends to create overnight accommodations, as well as allow nighttime access. As mecca for wellness seekers for over a century, Glen Ivy entered its 156th year better than ever, with thoughtful renovations, expansions, and program development that aim to put them as a top destination for tourists and Californians alike.