Good Life

Visions of elegance

Large columns frame the entry to the ballroom of the Philips Hotel. CDT/Christopher Weddle
Large columns frame the entry to the ballroom of the Philips Hotel. CDT/Christopher Weddle

A gleaming marble floor, a cigar stand and a modern convenience, the electric elevator, would have greeted the first salesmen and wealthy travelers who chose to stay at the new Hotel Philips in 1921.

Built during the bustling era of railroads and coal companies in Philipsburg, the hotel was turned into an assisted-living facility in 1961 and then vacated about five years ago.

The grand building was beloved in town and the Philipsburg Main Street Program diligently looked for someone capable of bringing her back.

In 2007, married State College attorneys Faith Lucchesi and Tony De Boef looked at the massive, deteriorating building at 200 E. Presqueisle St. and saw potential. Not for another use, but for its original purpose.

A few years and many seven-day workweeks later, the couple have brought guests and diners back to transform the tall stone structure into a living thing again. The Philips Hotel of today has reopened the ballroom for weddings and parties, brought back the upscale restaurant and completed renovation on nine boutique-style hotel rooms. There are plans to more than double the number of rooms this spring, and visions of mixed-use space on upper floors and a pub next door are in the works.

The first-time hotel and restaurant owners have so far spent a little more than $1 million on the building, and their work is supported by a $1 million state economic development grant that will be paid out once they’ve invested at least $2 million.

The rehabilitation evokes elements of charm and 1920s flair while adding modern updates, furniture and amenities.

Gone are the matching mauve carpet, paint and draperies from the building’s days as the Presbyterian Home assisted-living facility.

Because the original marble floor in the lobby was too damaged with old carpet adhesive to restore, Lucchesi chose a leopard print carpet with red accents, leather furniture and a shiny, black grand piano to make a bold statement in the airy entrance.

The original brass-colored lamp fixtures that hang from the ceiling in the lobby and restaurant were buffed up. Their antique bulbs are special ordered from China. A plaster cast of the ballroom’s original crown molding was found in the basement and used to make repairs.

The original elevator still serves the building and, if it seems slow, remember it was once considered high speed. It’s all part of the experience.

The 1921 Restaurant, an inviting and spacious dining room on the first floor, is in the same space as the original hotel restaurant. There are no Prohibition laws, however, so the room’s centerpiece is now a custom solid wood, marble-topped bar.

Lucchesi, who grew up a few miles outside of Philipsburg in Hawk Run, said she fell in love with the 89-year-old building a few years ago as she stood in the seventh-floor grand ballroom, once the place for high school senior dinners, weddings and dances.

“The floor was dull and the paint was peeled and all cobwebby but you could see through it,” she recalled. “You could see how magnificent it could be.”In a historic Philipsburg building, beauty doesn’t come without work.

A section of peeled paint after a recent roof drainpipe burst was just a clue as to the enormity and ongoing nature of the project. Advertised, like many other historic buildings at the time, as a “fireproof structure,” it has brick curtain exterior walls, reinforced concrete floors, roof and frame and the interior plaster walls are made from 4-inch gypsum blocks. The size of the hotel rooms is nonnegotiable, to say the least.

The most labor-intensive and expensive part of the project to date has been to replace the massive drainpipes that were original to the building but cracked during the years it sat vacant. A few of the old cast-iron pipes are kept in an otherwise empty upstairs hallway as a reminder of how close the building came to ruin.

Since early 2008, the 140-person ballroom has been busy.

The original dumbwaiter is regularly used to clear plates, and from the ballroom windows, guests have a bird’s-eye view of much of historic Philipsburg.

The first event in the room, a 50th birthday party, was held in early 2008 when word began to spread that the building had been purchased. The celebrants asked to use the space before Lucchesi and De Boef had even begun to advertise.

The couple had three weeks to replace the carpets in the lobby, paint and get the room back to its former glory.

Since that first successful evening, the work has been nonstop.

The fine-dining restaurant opened in January, and the first guest rooms opened last spring. Plans are to finish renovation on the remaining rooms on the third floor and rooms on the second floor by May.

Each hotel room is decorated with modern pieces the couple hunted down at local furniture stores or online, so no two rooms are alike. The boutique-style look is far from the cut-and-paste of national chains.

The owners make sure there are fresh flowers in the rooms for arriving guests and hope to open a branch office of their law practice on site so they can be there more often.

In fact, they hope to renovate more of the vacant floors for rent as office space or apartments, and have plans to renovate the building next door into a new establishment called the Presqueisle Pub. It’s hard to miss that all these visions of bringing back old spaces is a perfect mirror for the spirit of independence that abounded when the building was erected. On opening night of the hotel in July 1921 guests walked through a set of French doors in the ballroom to watch a band play in the rooftop garden.

The space where the doors once were is now hidden by drywall. But like so many other items in this once-sleeping giant, Lucchesi and De Boef plan to bring back the doors, the garden and the good times once enjoyed on that rooftop.

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