What’s Going On at the Old Grey Whale Inn?

The Redwood Coast Inn is looking shabby these days, but it has a special place in Fort Bragg's heart.

Partly that's because, even now, a fair number of Fort Bragg people were born there. The place opened in 1915 as the town's first modern hospital and operated continuously until 1971, when Mendocino Coast District Hospital opened its doors.

That's why it was...ironic? Hopeful? Disturbing? It's hard to tell yet… that on the day of the pretty momentous handover of Coast Hospital to its new Adventist Health managers, that Fort Bragg's very first hospital seemed to be coming under new outside management as well.

But while Adventist Health heralded its takeover with balloons, prayers, and Sister Sledge playing in the parking lot, the Redwood Coast Inn's (formerly the Grey Whale Inn) transition so far has been marked by furtive bong hits on the back porch and, as we shall see, angry tirades on the front.

Someone was definitely moving in by the first weekend in May, in the middle of the County’s Shelter In Place. Among the new cars and new faces was a burly, ponytailed gent who was soon spotted and photographed hitting a king-sized bong on the back steps.

After an on-line post by local business man Jim Britt, which included a photo of the bong-hitter, Fort Bragg Facebook swung into action. Who were these people moving into a downtown landmark when we were all supposed to be staying home? 

In Locked Down Fort Bragg, inquiring minds wanted to know.

Until last summer, the Redwood Coast Inn had been part of Living Light, a deluxe vegan cooking school based in Fort Bragg that went belly up last summer, less than two years after its founder Cherie Soria sold it to a Santa Barbara-based organization called Communities Moving Forward. The dissolution of Living Light as a functioning business, though not as a legal corporation, was acrimonious, with rumors of nervous breakdowns and skulduggery — all related to the new proprietors — rife.

According to county parcel data, the Santa Barbara-based Communities Moving Forward, which also operates five addiction rehab facilities in San Diego, now owns the Redwood Coast Inn. Living Light remains an active Limited Liability Corporation and still owns the former Colonial Inn, a gorgeous Craftsman-style home/inn, now also in shabby state, a block from Fort Bragg Middle School in what is known as Fort Bragg's Snob Hill neighborhood. 

Living Light is now somehow associated with the non-profit Communities Moving Forward.

It turns out the man hitting the bong on the back steps of the Redwood Inn is named Jacob Lawrence. He's from Willits. He asks some people to call him Big Jake.

Lawrence

Big Jake and his associates started moving into the Redwood Coast Inn around the weekend of May 2, as far as the neighbors could tell. Jake told one curious observer that he plans to open a halfway house for veterans recovering from drug addiction there.

That would jibe with what Big Jake has told Planning Departments in both Fort Bragg and Willits city halls, where he has asked about what it would take to open a halfway house in both towns. According to staff at both departments, Big Jake has not gone past asking.

It would also seem to line up approximately with the purpose of the nonprofit mutual benefit corporation that Big Jake — identifying himself as Jacob Matthew Lawrence on the paperwork — has registered with the California Secretary of State's office. 

Med Vets, according to its incorporation papers, "is a non profit mutual benefit corporation… The specific purpose of this corporation is to spread awareness and facilitate care through activities to prevent suicide for war veterans."

Big Jake could have explained all that on Monday afternoon when I knocked at the front door of the Redwood Coast Inn. There was a “closed” sign in the window, but seeing as the place is a public lodging facility on Main Street and it was the middle of a workday, I figured it might be OK to ask the new occupants what their plans are.

They disagreed.

There are actually two front entrances to the Redwood Coast Inn, probably having to do with its days as a hospital. At the main entrance that afternoon, a big bull terrier lay inside on the stairs, visible and friendly through the glass doors. A walking stick and a couple other items indicated current occupants, but no humans were visible.

At the second front entrance, Big Jake was visible through the glass, along with two associates, hard at a game of cards on a Monday afternoon.

Big Jake was not nearly as friendly as the bull terrier. Without a word, he jabbed his finger angrily at the main entrance.

Complying with his mute but clear instructions, I walked back over to that entrance to find him standing, arms akimbo, at the top of the steps. Jake is indeed big, that part is certainly true.

Menacingly, he demanded to know my "business.” After I explained I had come over to ask what the new activity and people were about, and after pointing out that I was doing so in a neighborly way, he asked if I was "giving him shit.” I gave up trying to be diplomatic and told him I guessed I was.

Big Jake descended the steps and proceeded to tower over and bellow at me.

But towering and bellowing aren't as effective when you can't manage to tell the truth about yourself. Big Jake told me, twice, that he is the owner of the Redwood Coast Inn. 

A quick check of County property records show he is not the owner, that Communities Moving Forward is, and Jake is not an officer of that entity.

Jake told me he has permits for transitional housing or a rehab center or whatever it is he plans to do at the Redwood Coast Inn. 

A quick check with Fort Bragg City Hall revealed Jacob Lawrence has no permits for anything in Fort Bragg.

According to the Fort Bragg Police Department, Big Jake has asked to file charges of Criminal Trespass and Criminal Threats against me, based on the five minute conversation/shouting match he and I had on the front steps of the Redwood Coast Inn last Monday afternoon. 

We'll see how that goes.

So, Fort Bragg and Big Jake are getting acquainted. As one observer put it, "the interesting part is probably what happens next."

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