At Little River Inn, we’ve always had a special appreciation for family. After all, the original house that has since become the Little River Inn was built in 1853 by Silas Coombs and has remained in our family ever since. Our grandfather, Ole, turned that original building into the Inn some eight decades ago and we’re still happily on the job, doing what it takes to make you feel more than welcome. Situated on 225 wooded acres, the old Coombs home is now surrounded by 65 oceanview rooms, a dining room and bar, nine hole golf course with pro shop and day spa.
Like every family living in an old house we’ve made changes over the years, but at Little River Inn we pretty much like to keep things just the way they are and always have been. That means having lots of family around, watching the sunset with friends and neighbors and still giving creative license to all tellers of tall tales.
So – whether you’ve come for a romantic getaway or an executive retreat, you will be met with our genuine hospitality and warmth. When we say five generations of hospitality, we mean it.
Cally Dym and Melissa Pyorre
Fifth Generation Innkeepers
A classic coastal resort with spectacular ocean views, Little River Inn boasts a long legacy of authentic family hospitality. The fifth generation, including Innkeeper Cally Dym and her husband, Executive Chef Marc Dym, is currently at the helm, happily welcoming guests just as the family has done since 1939.
Standing on the front porch of Little River Inn, it’s hard to imagine that the peaceful bay below once was a robust shipping port. In the 1850s, millions of board feet of lumber were loaded onto ships that sailed around the world. The owner of the lumber mill was Silas Coombs, great grandfather of Danny Hervilla and Susan Hervilla McKinney, the inn’s present owners.
The Coombs home became Little River Inn in 1939 when Cora Coombs and her husband Ole Hervilla opened for business on May 27. “Little River Inn – the Beauty Spot of the Coast” the banner ads read in the local papers. It all started at Little River Inn when Ole asked his mother-in-law to turn her living room into a bar. Back in 1939 the bar was also the office, where he conducted business while bartending, smoking stogies and telling tall tales. Change was made from his cigar box, and the one key that worked in every lock was given to the occasional city slicker who insisted on locking their door at night. A 1939 photo of the bar reveals the exact same ocean view room so popular today as Ole’s Whale Watch Bar.
Stories about Cora and Ole are legend. For years he picked (illegally, it would seem) the abalone for which the inn was famous. He cooked it, too, on a special grill he fashioned. He adapted that grill for Ole’s Swedish Hotcakes which are still served every morning at the inn.
Cora turned out wonderful food, including glorious pies. The recipe for her huckleberry pie still is in use by countless Mendocino Coast cooks. It was Cora who supervised the vegetable gardens, and furnished the inn with the graciousness she lent her own home.
Susan and Danny remember the inn’s kitchen as their own. They had chores: gathering and stacking firewood for him, dusting and vacuuming for her. Both kids could change a bed in record time. “When you grow up in a home where there are inn guests,î Susan McKinney recalls, ìyou just naturally treat them as you would guests in your own home.”
Family and cousins and spouses are part of the management mix at Little River Inn. And employees tend to be long term; several have been with Little River Inn over 20 years and many more than 10. It all bears out the authenticity of the inn’s claim: Family hospitality since 1939.
It is true that tradition and warmth are pervasive at Little River Inn. It is also true that the inn boasts stunning views of the Pacific. Yet it is not until watching the sunset over the ocean, sipping a perfectly chilled martini and dunking crusty bread into the remaining broth of steamed clams that one slows down enough to truly appreciate what happens when location and hospitality coincide in perfect unison. And how special this convergence when nurtured by generations both past and present.
Hollywood at the Little River Inn
Hollywood ‘discovered’ Little River Inn in 1939 when Myrna Loy and her husband happened to be driving up the coast on vacation and stayed at the Inn. But the first film cast and crew to discover the Inn was that of Frenchman’s Creek, starring Joan Fontaine. The year was 1943, and legend has it that Ms. Fontaine preferred caviar, champagne and filet mignon to the choices on the menu, none of which was readily available in a small town during war time. The irascible Ole Hervilla, the Inn’s founder, dutifully reviewed her demands with the film’s location manager, who sent someone to San Francisco to purchase the items, then told Ole to charge her double to teach her a lesson. When presented with the bill she called Ole all kinds of names he was surprised to hear from a lady, but the bill was eventually paid by Sid Street, the location manager.
In 1947 the cast of Johnny Belinda was staying at the Inn and it was Jane Wyman and her husband Ronald Reagan who bellied up to the bar. One evening Reagan got down on the floor and showed everyone his football moves; on another night, Jane convinced Ole to let her tend bar as a break from the rigors of acting. She didn’t know how to make change so she just stuffed bills in the register – and Ole made a whopping $900 in one night. She then went on to win the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in the film.
Given the legend that’s grown up around James Dean it’s hard to imagine that someone in a small town would have the nerve to ì86î him from a bar. However, when Dean was staying at Little River Inn while filming East of Eden in 1954, Ole had no trouble teaching the young kid some manners. One evening when Dean was relaxing in Ole’s Whale Watch Bar he made the mistake of getting a little too comfortable and stretched out his legs – on top of the table. Ole took one look and that was that – Dean was tossed out and told not to come back.
Ole’s niece, Connie Reynolds, who still works at the Inn, has a different perspective on Dean’s visit to Mendocino. Not only was she among the numerous local extras on the film (she remembers being grossed out when she saw him blow his nose ‘like a lumberjack’) she has some pretty wonderful bragging rights – Dean once slept in her bed. Apparently he came down with a bad case of poison oak – how and why remains unknown. None of the other cast members were willing to share a room with him, so Connie, only 8 years old at the time, was relegated to her sister’s room and Dean stayed in her bedroom.
Another East of Eden star, Julie Harris, endeared herself to the locals while staying at the Inn. When she overheard a phone conversation Ole was having with a waitress who called in sick on busy night, Julie told Ole she had worked as a waitress during college and offered to pitch in. She later said she had the time of her life ‘acting natural.’
Of the many talented personalities in the cast of The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1965), one of the most memorable has to be Jonathan Winters. One night Winters held forth in the bar with a three-hour, non-stop monologue that had people literally rolling on the floor with laughter. Norman Jewison, producer-director of the film, was interviewed when filming finished and had this to say: “The cooperation of the people here was without precedent – I can truthfully say it is the first location I have hated to leave. Keep your marvelous country the way it is. Please don’t change a thing.”
Thanks, Norman. And please let Hollywood know we’re ready for our next close up.