If R.A. Long were to step inside the Monticello Hotel today, he would find it looking much like it did when he was busy founding the city of Longview in 1923.
The historic hotel, the first major building to rise in the new town, is nearing the end of a multimillion-dollar renovation. It is packed with turn-of-the-century antiques and old paintings. The ceiling plasterwork of its Crystal Ballroom, long covered by a drop ceiling, is fully restored, and the arched ceiling is again flanked by plaster columns.
Mr. Long would find plenty of new features, too: a red-hued “speakeasy” with burgundy wood bar, crystal chandeliers, a stage for performers and dozens of newly-renovated apartments in the second and third floors.
Ten months after purchasing the iconic property for $2.8 million, the new owners are celebrating the complete remodel of the Crystal Ballroom and progress in other areas of the hotel’s renovation with a Prohibition-era themed party Friday night. The sold-out party is expected to attract more than 300 attendees.
The new owners faced a host of challenges along the way, from shakeups with management, financial constraints that forced out local owners, negative media coverage and struggles finding a company to run the hotel’s restaurant.
In spite of the drama, the $3 million to $4 million restoration project is nearing completion. The restaurant remodel will be done within 60 days, according to management. Monticello Place, the corporate owner, is negotiating with potential partners to run the hotel’s restaurant. The hotel’s 52 apartments are nearly all full, and there is a long waiting list of prospective tenants.
And the owners are the early stages of planning for a renovation of the adjacent ugly-duckling motel, with an idea of expanding it from 20 rooms currently to 70 to 120 rooms and refacing the exterior to match the colonial brick facade of the main hotel.
“It feels great just to say, ‘Hey this is where we’re going to go with this. It’s a ‘20s atmosphere. We want to bring it back to the original look,” said Sharon Walker, general manager of Monticello. “We want to bring it back to the community and make it a landmark.”
Here’s a review some of the work that has been done so far and what’s on the horizon.
• Restaurant: About 60 days away from completion, much of the floor of the restaurant was lowered four feet, revealing the original tiling. The walls will feature dark burgundy wood paneling and 1920s-style wallpaper with a red background and a gold floursih pattern on the top. Patrons can order drinks from a 1904-vintage zebra wood bar or watch chefs prepare meals in front of display cooking bar. Carpet will be installed in the next month in some sections of the restaurant. During restoration, workers discovered a heavy-duty crane wheel that historically was used to hoist food from the basement to the first floor. The crane will be on display at the restaurant. A massive, six-foot high crystal chandelier originally from the Orpheum Theatre in Seattle will be installed above the dining area (it was previously in the Crystal Ballroom.) Outside the restaurant is original mint green tiling previously covered up by concrete, as well as a concrete patio for outdoor seating.
• Restaurant management: With a working title of the “Rogue Steakhouse”, the restaurant will have a fine dining menu of steaks and seafood, although that’s subject to change depending on the final partners who manage the restaurant. The owners say they have prospective restaurant, but no deals have been finalized.
• Cafe: The old Fireside Lounge has been gutted and will be replaced by a bakery and cafe. The owners expect to begin the 90-day project to build out the cafe soon, once the restaurant is complete. The hotel is still negotiating a potential partner for the cafe.
• Crystal Ballroom: The old drop ceiling was removed, as were the concrete floors that covered original tiling. Thousands of dollars were poured into intricately restoring the plasterwork ceiling. A salvaged column was sent to Las Vegas to be replicated, and now 42 mint-green and gold columns line the ballroom, mimicking photos of the original space.
• Speakeasy: To the right of the ballroom is the Speakeasy, a red-toned, dark wood-themed room featuring an 1920s-era “Al Capone” wood bar from Chicago, VIP seating and a separate stage. The speakeasy’s red chairs and red doors on the far wall are all from an old popular restaurant in in downtown Kelso, Peter’s. Right now the doors are shuttered close but eventually they’ll lead into the hotel’s future gift shop. Nearby the red doors is a 200-year old stained glass window mounted on the wall, and two large stained-glass, four-foot tall lamps marking the corners of the stage,which will be host to live music, jazz, comedians and other performances.
• Apartment remodel of second and third floors: All but one of 10 luxury apartments have been rented out, Walker said. A new fire alarm system was installed, along with a new heating/cooling system, and new electrical, plumbing, steel stud framing and sheetrock is complete. New tiles, six-foot tubs and new appliances, and new kitchen cabinets were installed, too. The second floor apartments also got a significant refreshing, too.
Throughout the renovations, Walker said she’s been overwhelmed with an outpouring of community support in the form of donated time, materials or just simple encouragement from people who want to see the hotel succeed after a long history of financial struggles and troubled ownerships.
“On a daily basis, we get people wandering into the ballroom to look around,” Walker said. The Longview Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce and other civic groups already have signed up to host events at the hotel. The ballroom is booked through the holiday season.“It’s great to have someone pat you on the back. It keeps you going and keeps you positive,” Walker said.