|By Marcela L. Creps, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 13, 2005 - As renovations begin on the French Lick Springs Hotel and Resort, its remodelers have turned into treasure hunters.
The normally quiet lobby now clangs with the noise of workers who are removing years of paint and finding the original beauty of the space.
"They will get a good lesson in construction," said project architect George Ridgway, of hotel guests.
In the hotel's grand lobby, work has begun in the area nearest the windows, which is blocked off to guests.
The eggshell white paint is being removed on the columns to reveal scagliola, a faux marble finish made of plaster.
"It's a disappearing art form," said Tina Connor, executive vice president for Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana.
Each column takes almost a week to complete with most of the restoration work being done by Conrad Schmitt Studios of Milwaukee, Wisc.
On the lobby's ceiling, workers have found that many of the architectural elements are gold leaf.
Workers also found that many of the tray ceilings have small light fixtures in what appears to be rosettes that have been painted over.
Ridgway said there are probably anywhere from 200 to 250 of the light fixtures which are being rewired and restored to their original function.
"Who knows why they did it," Ridgway said of the paint covering the light fixtures and columns.
The hotel's spa area will also be getting an upgrade. The current unisex spa will be divided among men, women and couples.
The spa, which was built in 1905 has real marble in what is now the waiting room. Future renovation of the spa will be similar to the lobby where layers of paint and wallpaper will be removed.
"We will get rid of the suspended ceilings," Ridgway said.
In some areas, one-inch thick marble walls will be reconfigured for the new spa layout while stained glass windows will also be repaired.
In what is now the spa's workout room, workers will remove paint from the brick wall to reveal white glazed brick.
While efforts are being made to save as much as possible, a few things are not salvageable.
The current pools including the domed indoor pool will be removed because of years of neglect.
"It is going to be history," Ridgway said.
Instead, two new pools will be built on the southside of the building.
Changes are also planned for the Grand Colonnade Ballroom which will be the hotel's new fine buffet dining room.
Ridgway said the raised floor at the entrance of the hall and around the perimeter is not part of the original 1925 design. He speculated that some of it may be kept for raised dining areas, but expects most of it will be removed. The stage will also be gone.
The Pluto Dining Room, which overlooks the current pools, will also be refurbished. When the pools are replaced, the dining room will overlook lush gardens and include an outdoor dining area.
Ridgway said current estimates put the renovation of the lobby, the Pluto dining room and grand ballroom at close to $1 million.
The renovations are part of a larger plan of phase one which includes the building of the casino and meeting space and the renovation of 200 hotel rooms. The price tag for phase one will be approximately $150 million, according to Ridgway.
room renovations at French Lick will mean a decline in room numbers and
will start in September. The hotel currently has 471 rooms but Vernon C.
"A lot are extremely small rooms," Back said.
At the nearby West Baden Hotel, visitors still tour the historic building which has been renovated on the main floor. While tourists get to see the beautiful dome, the sixth floor holds its own treasures.
An elevator trip up reveals the skeleton of what was once a grand hotel.
Past the concrete walls and floors, a door suddenly blocks the path. Opening the door reveals six elegantly decorated rooms complete with furniture.
Connor said the rooms were completed after Donald Trump was awarded the bid to build the casino. She said people had a hard time envisioning the hotel's potential.
Now that Trump has pulled out, Connor said the room décor will probably change.
In one section, there is a tea room in front of the largest suite which features a meeting room, living room, kitchen and two bedroom suites flanking either side of the main room.
Once the initial 200 rooms are renovated, Ridgway said he is not sure if phase two will mean room renovations for French Lick or the completion of rooms at West Baden.
Whatever the plans, everyone agrees the hotels will once again regain their splendor.
"This is really going to be a national jewel," Connor said.
There are no plans to close the hotel during renovations with the completion date set for sometime between October and December of next year.
While the work is progressing, Connor is excited by each new find, while Ridgway sees each find as a price increase.
"It's just proof that nothing is impossible," Connor said.
"Some things just cost more," Ridgway joked.
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