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The Infamous Cult House in Tomales Bay, Turning into a Luxury Hotel

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Marconi Conference Center in Tomales Bay, Marin County, Northern California. Photo Daniel di Palma

A few years ago, I ventured into the mysterious depths of Marin County’s history when a friend convinced me to join them on an exploration of an abandoned cult house – once owned and operated by a now-defunct cult. Little did I know that in the upcoming fall of 2023, Marin’s historical Marconi Convention Center – once home to an infamous cult – will be turned into a luxury hotel. The same place that left me awe-struck would open its doors for visitors to stay. The captivating backstory behind this location is both a reason to book your stay or stay far-far away.

History of Marin’s Marconi Convention Center

This place has a super rich history. Interestingly, it was originally owned by a man named Marconi who is said to have invented the radio and used the space as a radio transmission site. It also housed the military at one point. However, the most interesting and infamous history of the center is when it served as a clubhouse for a new-age cult. Despite its intriguing past, the Marconi Hotel remains nestled in the hills of Marin (in Marshall) and is largely a testament to an era that has faded into obscurity…until recently.

Historical image of the Marconi Convention Center

I’ll tell ya – this place is creepy as hell. You can imagine why, given its dark history. In the early 1960s, the Marconi Hotel was taken over by a rehabilitation facility called Synanon. Initially focused on drug and alcohol rehabilitation, Synanon eventually transitioned into an “alternative lifestyle community” and later transformed into the “Church of Synanon” in 1975. Troubling practices emerged within the church, including demands for women to shave their heads and forced vasectomies for men.

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By 1980, the church faced allegations of hoarding weapons, and its leader was charged with attempted murder, resulting in the closure of the organization. Following this, the Marconi grounds were handed over to the state, which converted the area into the Marconi Conference Center State Historic Park.

Devoted followers of Synanon adhered to Chuck Dederich’s manipulative protocols and his fondness for social engineering, which included shaving their heads and donning overalls as part of their obedience.

If you want to deep dive into this cult, I highly recommend the book “Hollywood Park” by Mikel Jollett. The author was taken away from his family at 6-months of age and then raised at the Tomales Bay Synanon Clubhouse for the next 4 years – eventually escaping. There’s also an HBO documentary about it, as well.

Synanon women shave their heads as part of “liberation”, photo from 1975

Staying at The Synanon Cult Clubhouse in Marin

As I teased in the opening paragraph, you’ll soon be able to stay at this infamous cult house. The property is currently being remodeled into a luxury hotel.

I got curious about this because I love the thrill of staying at any place with a rich twisted history. When I was 18, I stayed in Alcatraz’s D-Block (a story for another day). So, I had to dig in and get all the details for other weirdos like me.

Coming in the Fall of 2023, you can stay at The Lodge at Marconi, according to their newly built website announcing the resort. “62-acre parkland and explore the picturesque trails that lead to the breathtaking views of Tomales Bay. Witness the beauty of nature while we elevate our existing buildings, preserving the history and legacy of Marconi,” they say on their marketing materials… completely glazing over the cult activity that occurred on the property.

Honestly, it’ll probably be pretty nice as it’s part of a larger hospitality portfolio owned by Oliver Hospitality who own multiple high-end properties across the U.S. which are gorgeous. And… at least the new owners aren’t shying away from telling the whole story of the location on their website.

One of the images featuring a venue available at the new Marconi Lodge

The venue will offer separate buildings for each group, with conference facilities that include farm-to-table meals, accommodations for a large number of guests, and a relaxing scenic space with trails all around you. Ya know, all the stuff a cult would have loved, too.
I’m kidding, mostly. It’ll be really nice to see such a large property get the facelift that it deserves after so much time.

As a side note: in 2020, another spot owned by Synanon also turned into vacation rentals. Somewhere south of Fresno in Tulare County but not as close as Marin is to all of us.

Wanna snoop on the new hotel as we await the opening?

You may not be able to go in since it’s in the middle of a remodel but you can drive there by taking Highway 1 to the Marconi Conference Center State Historic Park and see what you’ll be able to view.
(more online information on the area here)
You can check out the space via this super cool tour on Youtube which does a great job of orienting you around when it was fully abandoned not too long ago.



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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy is a professional smiling machine raised in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.