Nothing happening at Monterey Hotel

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staff, Gazette
Saturday, August 18, 2012

— City planner Gale Price has called it an "architectural gem," and it has played host to such luminaries as then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and jazz legend Louis Armstrong.

The historic Monterey Hotel, a 1929 Art Deco hotel situated at the intersection of Milwaukee and High streets in downtown Janesville, still stands today. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear it will be doing much more in the near future.

In June 2011, The Gazette published a story about how the Grafft family was set to start a three-year plan to remodel the building into four floors of high-end apartments anchored by a restaurant and offices on the first and second floors.

Now, Britten Grafft, whose business partner and father Jim Grafft bought the hotel in 1996, says she can't say whether the three-year plan is in effect.

The first phase of the plan, renovating the fašade of the former Park Place movie theater, fell through. The city planned to contribute $67,000 it had secured through a grant toward the project, but the Graffts chose not to move forward with the project and the funding evaporated.

Today, the building sits vacant. Three telecommunications antennae atop the hotel represent its only commercial activity.

Britten Grafft said recent business dealings, including the acquisition of a company and real estate outside Wisconsin, have put the hotel on the back burner.

"That's a project that needs a lot of time and effort before we move forward on it," Grafft said of the hotel. "It's a big-dollar figure that we will be investing in it. We want it done right."

Earlier this year, the Graffts refused an offer to purchase the hotel from a Cincinnati-based business.

"We felt that they were going to ruin the historic integrity of the building in order to fit their needs (for the space)," Grafft said. "It wasn't a fair offer financially. They were basing the price on what they would have to do in renovations."

While the building sits, city officials worry. The hotel has "pounds and pounds" of peeling lead paint, Price said, and the building's roof is a point of contention between the city and the Graffts.

In an email, Price said there is "significant leaking around the front tower at the corner of the building at High and Milwaukee."

"As the roof continues to deteriorate, ceilings and light fixtures will collapse," Price said. "Water has been frozen, at times, on the floor."

Price said an order from the city to re-roof the hotel came due the second week of July. Grafft characterized the order as unfair.

"That's quite a lot for the city to ask of us," Grafft said. "We did a lot of significant roof repairs just this year."

Price said the roof needs a complete reconstruction, rather than spot improvements.

Calling the hotel "cornerstone of the west side of downtown," Price said he understands that economic rather than nostalgic forces drive rehabilitation projects.

"In the grand scheme of things, we live in the United States, and people don't rehab buildings just for the sake of rehabbing them philanthropically," Price said.


Last updated: 5:08 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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