Bonita juveniles accused of causing $13,000 in damage at historic Shangri-La Hotel

A woman walks past the Shangri-La Inn Resort and Spa off Old 41in Bonita Springs on May 13, 2011. On Thursday, six Bonita Springs teenagers were arrested for causing $20,000 worth of damage at the resort including damaging paintings, a baby grand piano, a large statute, chandeliers and curio cabinet. Greg Kahn/Staff

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A woman walks past the Shangri-La Inn Resort and Spa off Old 41in Bonita Springs on May 13, 2011. On Thursday, six Bonita Springs teenagers were arrested for causing $20,000 worth of damage at the resort including damaging paintings, a baby grand piano, a large statute, chandeliers and curio cabinet. Greg Kahn/Staff

Six Bonita Springs juveniles face felony charges after deputies say they trespassed at the historic Shangri-La Hotel & Resort on Thursday and vandalized the hotel interior, damaging paintings, a statue and a baby grand piano.

Deputies responded to a burglary in progress at the property at 4:30 p.m. and found 10 juveniles on the grounds, according to a report. The youth scattered, but deputies created a perimeter and detained each. Four of the juveniles were released to their parents without being charged.

The remaining six, all from Bonita Springs, face felony charges of criminal mischief. They were identified as Javier Perez, 11; Joel Duron, 12; Jocelyn Gonzalez, 13; Carmello Mendez, 13; Luis Olvera, 13; and Jose Briseno, 13

Each is charged with felony counts of burglary greater than $1,000 and grand theft of a fire extinguisher.

Damage was estimated at $12,800 in an arrest report.

Allison DeFoor, a representative for current owners the Lama Hana trust, said much the damage stemmed from the ruined piano.

“We’re just glad it wasn’t worse,” DeFoor said, “And the deputies were very quick to respond.”

Deputies say the youth repeatedly struck the piano with a claw hammer. They set off fire extinguishers in the hotel, broke several windows and glass doors and punctured pictures. The report states they damaged a statue, as well as chandeliers and a curio cabinet.

Deputies were notified of the break-in after a maintenance man on the property spied the juveniles, including one who used a hammer to break into a rear door of the hotel. The maintenance man called a manager, who immediately dialed 911.

The break-in was the second in a week, after deputies say the same juveniles entered the hotel on Wednesday and sprayed a fire-extinguisher. DeFoor said the maintenance man was cleaning the mess from the first break-in when the second occurred.

Closed to the public since 1993, the Shangri-La’s mission-style hotel and landscaped grounds retain an air of mystery along a stretch of Old 41 Road otherwise known for roadside commercial.

Charlie Strader, a Bonita historian and former president of the city’s historical society, attended a rare tour of the property in 2006.

“It’s been maintained interior and exterior,” he said. “It’s a really cool place in a sense that it has its historical integrity.”

The property opened in 1927 by the natural springs for which the city is named. Originally called the Heitman Hotel and intended as a base for prospective land buyers, the hotel changed hands several times before its purchase by R.J. Cheatham in 1963.

Cheatham recast the property as a resort hotel, emphasized its mineral springs and christened it the Shangri-La. In its hey day, the resort hosted celebrities like Buddie Hackett.

Following Cheatham’s death, German couple Leo and Deborah Dahlmann purchased the property in 1993 as a resort catering to European tourists. The Dahlmanns heavily restored the property, but they bled money in the process. They sold the property in 1998 to the Lama Hana trust without ever having re-opened it to the public.

The trust announced plans in 2006 to turn the property into a natural-themed hotel and spa. They’ve since worked to achieve special designations certifying the property as organic and toxin-free, from the landscaping to the buliding materials, they told the Daily News in 2006.

DeFoor said the economic downturn has slowed the trust’s plans in recent years, and he suggested little was being done with the property beyond maintenance and upkeep. He said plans for the property remain unchanged.

“These are very patient people with a strong since of vision,” he said. “So when the time’s right, it’ll be right.”

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