Goodbye to the Hills, once Toro and later Emerald

Postcard for Toro Hills Motel
Postcard for Toro Hills Motel

First, it was Hodges Gardens Motor Inn, just across the highway from the magnificent Hodges Gardens.  It was created and designed specifically to complement Hodges Gardens… which in the 60s was such a heavy tourist attraction that a nearby hotel (okay, motel) and restaurant was needed.

Not just wanted, but needed.

And an accompanying golf course was perfect for the men who might tend to be bored with the Gardens.

Aerial view of Hodges Gardens Motor Inn
Aerial view of Hodges Gardens Motor Inn, 1970s
Aerial view of Emerald Hills, 2017
Aerial view of Emerald Hills, 2017
Plans announced for Hodges Gardens Motor Inn
Plans announced for Hodges Gardens Motor Inn
Hodges Gardens Motor Inn
Hodges Gardens Motor Inn
Ad for Hodges Gardens Motor Inn
Ad for Hodges Gardens Motor Inn
Swimming pool at Hodges Gardens Motor Inn
Swimming pool at Hodges Gardens Motor Inn
One of the two swimming pools at Toro Hills
One of the two swimming pools at Toro Hills
Toro Hills!
Toro Hills!

Later, perhaps in the early 70s though I am not exactly sure of the when, it became Toro Hills Motel & Restaurant.  That is how I remember it, when my grammar school marching group from Lake Charles (the Our Lady Queen of Heaven Barronettes!) visited Hodges Gardens and ate across the street after the Many Christmas Parade.  As kids, eating out anywhere was fantastic… but I remember having such a blast at Toro Hills… us all spread out in a room that I swear at the time seemed every bit as big as two skating rinks combined.

When I moved to Many in the early 1990s, it was still Toro Hills.  It is where we ate after the Easter Sunrise service, and they served an incredible breakfast to pretty much fill you up for the day.  I ate dinner (supper) more times than I could count for the next many years at the Grille which overlooked the golf course.  The golf course was one of the best in the state from what I had heard.  As a reporter, I covered banquets honoring graduates, etc. there.  I played some occasional tennis there, even though the courts weren’t kept up all that well … They were still better than anything else in the parish.

For me, Toro Hills for many years simply had a great feel to it.

Until it didn’t.  Until things kind of seemed like they were slowing down a little too much there.  I’m not sure if the owners lost interest or the area residents and visitors lost interest or if it was a combination of each.  But for a time, it clearly wasn’t looking so great for this once far out and groovy place.

During the mid or late 1990s, businessman Steve Alford purchased Toro Hills and it became Emerald Hills.  Alford’s purchase of Toro Hills was a good thing, it seemed, because before he bought it, the rumblings about the area were that Toro Hills would be shutting down.  Alford managed to keep Toro Hills alive and thoroughly enjoyable, even with its new name of Emerald replacing the Toro.  It seems he made a really good go of it, and there were times it seemed that the former Toro Hills would make a comeback… maybe never to its glory days, but a comeback nonetheless.

But then the State of Louisiana funded the construction of a rival golf course on Toledo Bend Lake and a hotel as well… Actually an entire resort, complete with club house restaurant, hotel restaurant, condominiums, ballrooms and meeting spaces and much, much more.

There were many who said Emerald Hills wouldn’t have a chance once Cypress Bend Golf Resort was opened.  And perhaps it didn’t have a chance.  To his credit, though, Alford, who lived in neighboring Vernon Parish but had plenty of roots in Sabine Parish, gave Emerald Hills a fighting chance to survive.

The Emerald Hills Golf Course held on to several dozen die hard golfers who hung in there and stayed loyal and supportive.  The restaurant largely attracted the nearby residents of Florien but not so many diners beyond.  The motel seemed to usually have far more vacancies than occupancies.  One of the two swimming pools was closed for much of the summer times.

I can only imagine the expense that must have been involved in operating Emerald Hills would have required tremendous patronage.  Without that patronage, Alford was unable to continue to maintain some of the features of Emerald Hills… such as two pools and two fully lighted tennis courts.  The hotel rooms were approaching 40 years of age and were in need of serious renovations.  But with occupancy as it was, costly renovations were out of the question.  The cut backs and lack of needed renovations fed a vicious cycle which in turn further negatively effected the patronage Emerald Hills was getting, or rather, as it came to be, not getting.

Then some Chinese investment group purchased Emerald Hills, stating they were going to turn it into a golfing school of some sort.  They didn’t.  Instead, they began renting the villas there by the month.  They quit maintaining the golf course.  They closed the hotel.  They closed the grille.  They closed everything.

From what I understand, about four or five years ago, a businessman from Florida with roots in Florien offered to buy Emerald Hills.  He was willing to pay a healthy price for the property, and he was financially able to as well. But the owners refused to sell.

And so it sits there.  Doing nothing.  Except rotting.  All of it.

And this pretty much seems to be the end of the story of the little resort that once was.

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27 thoughts on “Goodbye to the Hills, once Toro and later Emerald”

  1. We always ate there on our many trips to Hodges Gardens…Easter Sunrise Service was special. Are the gardens still open?

    1. The gardens are open. The state bought it. There are still some weddings and social events there. They really have worked on the Christmas scenes…. Nothing at Easter that I know of. The motel and gardens were our first jobs. We have such sweet memories of both. Such a shame that the local person who was interested couldn’t have bought it because it holds good memories for local people.

  2. So sad , I always admired this beautiful place. My family stayed there ,when we were attending a hodges garden event. I remember the place full of people. I also remember when hodges gardens were so beautiful…..now they have most of the areas of the park I remember shut down falling apart. I used to love flag island. If only there were something in the area to attract people…..

  3. Isn’t there a much hated law that will allow the state/parish to “condemn” this property and place it in the hands of an organization who will properly utilize it?
    Also there can be minimum standards of quality set to insure the intrinsic/historical value of the property?

  4. My nephew and wife were married at Hodges Gardens 30 plus years ago, quiet the extravaganza, ladies with southern belle dresses, umbrellas & hoop skirts, antique cars. Beautiful setting!!

  5. We loved this place till the now owners took over! Used to rent a condo for a month each December when we came home from overseas for holidays.
    Loved playing the course. I have pictures of my husband playing there in the SNOW

    Stayed 2-3 weeks in hotel when we sold our house before transferring.

    This breaks my heart!

  6. I remember spending hours in the pool with the slide when my family stayed there many times in the 70s and 80s. We were there every end of July to attend the Mains Family Reunion in Many.

  7. I am in tears looking at these pics.and reading.Emerald Hills was a place I spent a lot of years at.Working in housekeeping for so many years with my daughters and the rest of the staff.To say that some of the best years were spent there is putting I mild.The Alfords were wonderful employers and are super nice people as is their daughter Elizabeth Chance.I love and appreciate all of you.

    1. I”grew up”there learning respect and responsibility!! I hve so many great memories of my teen years working my but off taking care of the convention center to cleaning the rose room and straightening the club. I’ve cleaned rooms right beside many great people! Those memories are probably closest to my heart, like I said I “grew up” there,
      Love hugs and many blessings to all of us who kept it going for “Our Guest” Love you all, Sonya

  8. I’ve always loved this place. The gardens especially. I live not too far from them. There is now a group of volunteers called Friends of Hodges Gardens that does what they can to do upkeep of the gardens it’s a shame the state has it and does nothing to improve it. They say they have no money for it and that’s probably true . But they sure seem to have money for what they want to invest in .
    Breaks my heart

  9. It is very sad. Hodges Gardens Motel was once a booming place. I can remember on Easter Sunrise Service lots and lots of tour buses. But the casinos in the State seemed to have taken away all of the tourist. My husband worked here thru high school. It gave lots of local students job opportunities. Once there was a Beach over in the gardens and that brought in lots of business. My husband even worked at the grill at the beach that was located in the old lodge. That was the beginning of our dating years. All of it was still owned by the Hodges at that time. We used to still go to the grill to each lunch there lots of times until the Chinese bought it out and it closed. It would be nice to have a good eating place close to the gardens. The gardens aren’t as pretty as they were back then but they are still nice and I am glad we still have such a wonderful place to enjoy.

  10. I was blessed to have been an employee of Mr. Steve & Mrs. Jan Alfords @ Mulligans ( aka the clubhouse) those were some of the best times of my life The Alfords along with their children Elizabeth & Ran are some of the best ppl youll ever meet. When Katrina & Rita destroyed the lower part of our state they were the first to open not only their place to the evacuees but also their compassion their hearts and a strong family oriented desire to help their fellow neighbors began to mend and rebuild what was left of their lives. I find myself going back to that era of my life all the time i call it my happy place. I love The Alford family with all my being.

  11. My first job when I graduated in 1988 was in housekeeping at Toro Hills. Place was hopping. Condos, every single one, booked every weekend. Rooms to. My mom and my sister and I were the condo girls.I met many,many, many wonderful people who came to enjoy a leisure time at the pool, enjoy the golf course. I stayed a few years and moved on with my career but about 20 years later I returned to what had become Emerald Hills. Things had changed and the memories of the old Toro Hills lingered in my mind. My mom was sill there as head housekeeper and she and I would share old memories. The world wants change and growth is great, but in growing don’t forget about the good things that got us to where we are like friends, family, and even places like Emerald Hills and Hodges Garden.

  12. I grew up in Many and later as a grown woman I had a pre-wedding party dinner there even at the time Gov. Edwards as there. It was a nice party in’81. In the earlier days I like in the early 70s I can remember my grandparents coming in from Lafayette and would stay there. In the evenings my grandmother would play the piano in the lounge , a lot of merry times back then. I’m now in tenn. And plan to talk to a company about saving the motel and resort, it’s a long shot but gunna try.

  13. Spent 2 years there in 91′ & 92′ renovating the property before selling to Steve Alford. Mr. Byles and crew stayed busy, and Mr. Jack and I stayed busy on the course..Cypress Bend was already open then and it did pull all the visitors over there. The golf course at Toro was truly a championship course.

    1. Was wondering the same thing. Most of the rooms still have the original furniture. Also lots of stuff in the pro shop and dining and etc. I do not know though.

  14. Played many rounds of golf there…..early 70s only 9 holes, but very beautiful…..later the other 9 holes were added, enjoyed playing there until the Chinese took over…Very sad to see this place closed…..many good memories, friends there…

  15. I have wonderful childhood memories of Toro Hills. I spent HOURS in the pools. We went to the annual Poole Family reunion for many years in the mid 80s-early 90s.

  16. As a young soldier assigned to Fort Polk in the early 70s I had the opportunity to play Toro Hills. What a wonderful course and what wonderful memories. Now, as an old soldier, I have a golf course pencil collection of every course I have played with one pencil missing, Toro Hills. Does anyone have an Toro Hills pencil they could provide me. Thank you. Larry (nipper48@gmail.com)

  17. I worked as assistant to the pro the golf shop…. I was also a ” lobby maid” for a time… I was so sad to see the condition it was in during a recent visit. My dad was a greens keeper for the golf course for many, many years…. I learned to play golf there. I remember a lot of the older people who golfed there… It was a beautiful course. I will miss seeing it.

  18. That is so interesting! I am glad I came across this article, i have often wondered about it all.
    Thank you for taking the time.
    I hope that Hodges Gardens will remain open it is so beautiful and peaceful.

  19. I used to fly into the “closed” landing strip at Hodges Gardens in the mid-70’s to do business with Dr. Bill Broyles and his son Bill Jr. at Toro Hills. I made a trip there every month. “Doc” was a respected MD, a smart businessman, and did quite well in the oil and real estate businesses. Unfortunately, Toro Hills was one investment that didn’t generate enough revenue to offset the expenses involved in operating the resort. Doc loved the golf course, his friends and guests who came to play, and the people who worked there. Sadly however, Toro Hills was a secret a little too well-kept. Subsequent owners found themselves in the same situation and were never able to make Toro Hills (a.k.a.: Emerald Hills) a profitable venture. Maybe one day the current Chinese owners will grow tired of the cost of owning a non-productive real estate asset and sell. In the meantime, a former jewel of the piney woods lies fallow.

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