The Marconi Hotel is a fascinating, yet nearly-forgotten piece of radio history nestled in the hills near Marshall, California, that was built to house Marconi employees, but ended up acting as a clubhouse for a new age cult.
Guglielmo Marconi, often credited as “the inventor of radio”, hired J.G. White, a New York engineering company, to design and construct the structures at the historic Marshall trans-Pacific receiving station in 1913 and 1914. Along with his radio receiving station, Marconi created a luxurious hotel for his staff and their visitors. There were two cottages for the chief engineer and the assistant, an operations building, and a powerhouse for electric transformers and batteries as well. However the imposing hotel with its wide veranda was the centerpiece of Marconi’s receiving station. In addition to its thirty-five rooms, the hotel boasted such comforts as a library, game room, lounge, and dining hall.
With the onset of World War I, the transmitters were taken over by the military and the hotel was used to house them. This intervention helped break Marconi’s hold on worldwide radio transmissions, and the grounds were briefly given over to the RCA company.
Finally, in the early 1960s, a rehab facility known as Synanon took over the site. At first they were simply a drug and alcohol rehab center, but by the 1970s they had taken to calling themselves an “alternative lifestyle community” before finally becoming the “Church of Synanon” in 1975. Allegedly, leaders in the church began demanding some odd practices of their members, including that all the women shave their heads and that the men receive forced vasectomies. By 1980, the church was under suspicion for hoarding weapons and the leader was charged with attempted murder, essentially shutting down the organization.
The Marconi grounds were subsequently given to the state who turned the land into the Marconi Conference Center State Historic Park. Today, the hotel is empty and partially overgrown with vines, in stark contrast with the modern conference center buildings further up the hill. There are plans to renovate the hotel and reopen it as a museum and visitors center, but the considerable cost involved has thus far been prohibitive.
Know Before You Go
Take Highway 1 to the Marconi Conference Center State Historic Park