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Something Old, Something New

Improvements at Red Lion Inn Respect the Past

The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge.

The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge.

When the Red Lion Inn undertook a major renovation of its south wing a few years ago, it knew it was digging into the past. Exactly how far past, no one could say.
The wing is between 111 and 115 years old, but it’s hard to pinpoint the precise age, said James Hunt, buildings and grounds manager, explaining that it doesn’t show up on the inn’s 1897 maps — drawn shortly after its reconstruction following a devastating fire in 1896 — but the section does appear on 1901 maps.
“Strangely enough,” he said, “after this project was completed, we found the original set of blueprints. We had those reproduced, matted, and framed,” and they’re hanging in the first-floor hallway of the renovated section today.
These days, Red Lion owner Nancy Fitzpatrick might find some wall space to mark another milestone, as the inn was recently honored with the 2012 Paul E. Tsongas Award, the highest award given by Preservation Massachusetts, a statewide, nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes the preservation of historic buildings as a positive force for economic development and community character.
“We did 28 guest rooms in the south wing,” Hunt told BusinessWest. “The project was a full remodel, and that involved structural, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, the fire-alarm system, the sprinkler system, and all the finishes that go along with that. That was the basic scope of the job. We brought everything up to code in that section.”
The way they did so — enhancing guest comfort and increasing energy efficiency while maintaining the historic character of the rooms — is what drew the attention of Preservation Massachusetts.
“From my perspective,” Hunt said, “what’s neat about the whole project was that it took the latest and greatest of modern technology and installed it in this historic environment.”

Quiet, Please

Innkeeper Michelle Kotek stands in one of the remodeled rooms.

Innkeeper Michelle Kotek stands in one of the remodeled rooms.

The key, Innkeeper Michele Kopek said, is to integrate the upgrades so seamlessly that guests have a better experience without any loss of the Red Lion’s historic character. “People look around and say, ‘oh, what did you change?’” she noted. “But much of it is behind the walls.”
Or on the walls themselves. “Contractors, by nature, when they do a demolition, like to tear out everything,” Hunt said. “One challenge we faced was to save as much of the original horsehair plaster as we could. The fact is, it probably would have been a lot more affordable for us to peel it all off and start over, but we were able to put patches in where it needed them.”
Similarly, workers kept the door hardware — ornate bronze hinges and knobs well-worth saving, Hunt said — and stripped off literally dozens of coats of paint to bring out the look of the original doors. And 17 of the rooms saw their fireplaces — which were, in some cases, buried behind walls — upgraded with new gas inserts. “They were woodburning fireplaces,” Kotek said, “but we didn’t use them for fear of fire.”
Other upgrades speak directly to guest comfort, such as an upgrade of the old air conditioners, replaced now by modern temperature-control units.
Hunt explained that the project really began with frequent complaints about traffic noise coming from outside, as the hotel sits at the intersection of routes 7 and 102 in downtown Stockbridge. Meanwhile, “it was very difficult to control the climate in the rooms, and it was kind of a double-edged thing — guests would come in, and the room would be overheated, so they’d open the window to cool the room down, and then deal with the truck noise.”
Now, thanks to the upgraded heating and cooling units — not to mention the eight inches of insulation inside the walls and between the rooms — guests in each room can much more easily control the climate while minimizing noise with the new insulated glass in the windows.
Speaking of the windows, Hunt said he was surprised when architects recommended keeping the triple-track aluminum storm windows instead of replacing all the windows completely.
“So we removed every window sash and marked and catalogued every single sash and where it was located. We sent the windows out and had them stripped and then milled out to accept insulated glass. Then we put insulated glass in the sash that had been there for 100 years, in that exact position.”
Kotek said that, between the attention to guest comfort and a restoration of original elements, “we kind of kept some of the old with the new.”

Quality of Life
The Tsongas Award from Preservation Massachusetts comes on the 10th anniversary of the Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit (MHRTC) program. Even though the Fitzgerald family was given the award in 1999 for its dedication to preservation projects in Stockbridge, today, the honor — awarded to 32 developments in 2012 — recognizes projects that have successfully used the MHRTC to revitalize communities, spur investment, create jobs, or enhance quality of life in the Commonwealth.
“The Red Lion Inn is one of the most well-known historic inns in all of Massachusetts, if not the entire country,” said Jim Igoe, president of Preservation Massachusetts. “Its continual presence and popularity as a Stockbridge destination shows how historic preservation benefits our communities, both large and small.”
Hunt said he’s amazed at how quickly the project was completed — less than five months from moving furniture out to checking visitors in. “At one time, I counted 80 tradesmen on the job,” he added, noting that the contractor, David J. Tierney Jr. Inc. of Pittsfield, deserves credit for moving the project along successfully at that pace.
Hunt said most of the preservation aspects of the renovation were decisions made internally, and not by any outside body overseeing historic sites. “Most of the elements were things we wanted to keep, and a lot of them, the architects wanted to keep,” he noted, referring to Einhorn Yaffee Prescott of Albany, N.Y., an architecture firm that specializes in this kind of property. “They are passionate about historic preservation, and it shows.”
That appealed to the inn’s leadership, said General Manager Bruce Finn. “Preservation is a critical factor in the core values of our business.”
Kotek said the Red Lion, at least since being rebuilt following the 1896 fire, has upgraded rooms at various times, but never on the scale of the current project.
Still, the work is far from done. Hunt said the facility has a master plan in place to conduct similar large-scale renovations in three more phases. The first of those has been drawn up, but all renovations have been on hold due to the economy. However, the Red Lion will soon open 17 rooms in a new guest house, one of several the inn has converted from neighboring buildings it purchased over the years.
He added that further renovations, when they take place, will reap economic benefits over time in added energy effiency.
“It’s great to have the historic-preservation part of it coupled with the energy part of it,” he said. “We’ve reduced energy consumption in the south wing by 27%, both electric and gas. The numbers are there; they don’t lie. That’s what’s neat, to see that kind of improvement in this historic environment.”
And those benefits don’t at all change what guests have always loved about the Red Lion Inn and its quirky appeal, Kotek said.
“We like to keep our leaks and our slanted floors and the doors that don’t close all the way. That’s part of the charm. We wanted to keep that historic aspect and yet enjoy these modern changes.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

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