Lorna Gunsauls and The Prescott
By Melissa Mendonca
Elegance RebornJune 2015
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Michelle Hickok
One never knows what may be found on a genealogical search if one digs far enough. Perhaps a hero, perhaps an outlaw. Or, in the case of Lorna Gunsauls, the perfect name for her new business and impeccably restored historical building in downtown Red Bluff, The Prescott.
“I'm kind of obsessed with the generation that came to America,” Gunsauls says of her decade-long dive into her family's history. Along the way, she came across Prescott Bigelow, the husband of a third cousin. “He fell in love with us and we fell in love with him,” she says of the bonds that have formed since reaching out to meet.
When it came time to rename her building at 905 Rio Street, she and her husband, Mike, a helicopter pilot, kept bandying names. “They just kept sounding like Las Vegas casinos,” she says with a laugh. Saying “The Prescott,” however, just seemed to work. They called up their relative in Cincinnati to receive his blessing.
While the naming process was by no means easy, it was far from the most difficult aspect of the development of The Prescott.
The building, Red Bluff ’s newest event center and only ballroom, originated in 1924 as the Red Bluff Women’s Clubhouse. Although originally built as an event center, it has had a few different incarnations since, including a period as a loan center and a time sitting
“We pretty much tore it down to the studs and brought in period pieces,” says Gunsauls of the renovation she has overseen from day one. Among the surprises of such an extensive undertaking was finding a World War II-era playing card—the seven of hearts—inside a wall that was torn down.
Adding to the “wow” factor of the building are three Schonbek chandeliers that span four feet across and hold more than 300 Swarovski crystals. “And I hung every single one of them,” she sighs with accomplishment.
She turned a meeting room into a luxurious women’s bathroom, which includes a bridal dressing suite, and brought the men's bathroom up from the basement. (It did used to be the Women’s Clubhouse, after all.) “I think the ladies would approve of what we did with their boardroom,” she says with a laugh, pointing out the exquisite design elements and luxurious appliances of the room.
While the Prescott has been in renovation for more than a year, the idea to develop it came on quickly, spurring Gunsauls from dreamer to doer in less than 24 hours. It started with a conversation with her niece, Tiffany Gunsauls, an event planner. The two lamented the lack of truly beautiful indoor event spaces in Red Bluff and brainstormed what one would look like and how it would function. “We were just chatting about it casually without anything real in mind,” she says.
Things came into very real focus the next morning, however, when Gunsauls saw the listing for the Women’s Clubhouse in the paper. “Practically everybody in town who is my age had their wedding reception here,” she says, noting that she and her husband celebrated their own wedding there. “My husband and I, when we dated, came to dances here. There were lots of philanthropic events. It was just The Place,” she adds. She knew it needed to be brought back into use as an event center. She also knew she was the one that needed to do it.
That sense of history compels Gunsauls to offer a grand location where more memories can be made for a new generation. “Our goal is to make a really wonderful, fabulous place to
have events and get-togethers,” she says. While it is certainly a location worthy
of a luxurious wedding, Gunsauls also looks forward to hosting Super Bowl parties and family reunions or gala fundraisers. “I have all sorts of ideas for my own events,” she says, noting that she wants to do more than just rent out the space.
“The building is a Red Bluff jewel and I feel like a steward,” she says. “In some ways, I feel like it's not really mine.” There's no doubt, however, that when people first walk into The Prescott that they’ll wonder who’s behind the shimmer of the chandeliers and the elegance of the restrooms – both women’s and men’s. For that, the answer will be Lorna Gunsauls, a woman who jumped on the chance to turn a casual conversation into a new chapter in her life, a new element in her family history.