Hotel renovation preserves a piece of Whitewater history
By the time fire broke out in the two-story wooden building Jan. 15, 1998, the hotel was a shell of its former self.
“It had never been loved,” said Russell Walton, owner and operator of R.R. Walton and Co.
Today, the Whitewater Hotel is an example of Walton’s respect for historic buildings and the city’s downtown revitalization efforts.
Walton’s renovation of the building received the Main Street Award in 2006 and the state Historical Society Award for the Best Historic Renovation this year.
In it’s new life, the building now houses the Sweetspot Coffee Shoppe, two business offices and a large apartment on the main floor and five apartments on the second floor.
It’s location at 226 W. Whitewater St. across the street from Cravath Lakefront Park offers an idyllic setting, Walton said.
“Working on the building was very enjoyable,” Walton said.
The project served as a catalyst for the Main Street Program’s downtown revitalization, said city Manager Kevin Brunner.
The city invested in the hotel project with tax incremental financing dollars, Brunner said.
But the job showed others in the community what can be done with the leverage of public dollars, and it gave them confidence that their restoration projects can become reality, too, Brunner said.
Walton bought the blighted hotel from the city after it had stood empty for seven years after the fire. Its windows were boarded and its interior littered with charred debris.
City leaders were anxious for the building to be either revitalized or razed.
It was a linchpin for the city’s downtown revitalization efforts, Brunner said.
Razing the building would have offered 10 downtown parking stalls, but that option would have destroyed a valuable piece of the city’s past, Walton said.
From the beginning, Walton respected the historic value of this property.
“We visualized what it could be,” Walton said.
Parts of the building date to 1852. Although it was remodeled in 1892, the building retained much of its Greek Revival flourishes.
During other remodeling projects in 1993 and 1994, window and porch detailing was lost.
Walton worked with the State Historical Society in designing the renovation so that the hotel could reclaim its place as one of the storytellers of the city’s past.
The project was intriguing but not without challenges, Walton said.
“It was ready to fall down,” Walton said.
Although the hotel was built well, no one had put any care into maintaining it, Walton said.
“Whenever anyone did something to it, the work just hurt it more,” Walton said.
One of the interesting discoveries Walton made while working on the hotel was a long-forgotten and concealed room. It had been shut off by an earlier remodeling project.
“You couldn’t get in there,” Walton said.
Inside the room was a cache of Whitewater’s history. Among other things, it contained century old bottles, train tokens and magazines from the 1940s, Walton said.
None of it is of great financial value but all helps tell the hotel’s story.