BLOWING ROCK, N.C. -- Not long after he and his brother bought the derelict Green Park Inn at auction, Steve Irace learned something that astonished him.
“If you looked in the lobby or the dining room or the bar, you saw the columns,” he says. “Those columns are single pieces of solid American chestnut that run from floor to ceiling and beyond.”
With American chestnut selling for $12 a board foot on the collector lumber market, he realized the hotel “was worth more dead than alive.”
Luckily for the community, and for history buffs, that’s not why the brothers bought this “Grande Dame of the High Country.”
“We feel that we’re caretakers of a national treasure,” Irace said during a recent visit to this Victorian jewel, perched atop the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina. “We resurrected this property. We brought it back. We wouldn’t let it die.”
The property started as a boarding house in 1882. The lobby walls are lined with photographs of famous guests – Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover slept there, as did first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Marilyn Monroe and oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, America’s first billionaire. But there was a time, not so long ago, when the Green Park appeared headed for the scrap market. By the May 2010 auction, the hotel was boarded up and bankrupt. Its spindle-railing Queen Anne balconies were rotten and sagging, the steam heating system cold and leaking. The brothers were the only bidders. They call themselves hotel “affection-ados.” This is the fourth historic hotel property they’ve rehabilitated.
The hotel reopened in October 2010, with 15 of the 88 rooms refurbished (about half have now been renovated). With their high ceilings and large windows, the rooms are classic and airy, with luxuriously comfortable beds, large flat-screen televisions and complimentary Wi-Fi. Vintage iron lighting fixtures use energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
Executive chef James Welch, 47, a James Beard-nominated chef, had done kitchen stints at Sheraton hotels in nearby Greensboro and Miami before coming to Blowing Rock 18 years ago to help open a restaurant. He was looking for a new challenge when the Iraces recruited him to run the inn’s Laurel Room Restaurant. They gutted the old kitchen, spent $500,000 to bring it up to code and opened it a year ago.
The Green Park was recently accepted as a member of Historic Hotels of America, a project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for hotels that have “faithfully maintained their historic integrity, architecture and ambiance.”
Irace and his brother are confident that, as the economy turns around, that same rising tide will lift their boat.
“A lot of our guests buy into what our employees buy into, and what Gene and I bought into,” he says. “Which is: We’re building something. We’re saving something. We’re saving something that’s worth saving.”
• Green Park Inn: 9239 Valley Blvd., Blowing Rock, N.C.; www.greenparkinn.com; 828-414-9230. Weekday rates begin at $89 (low season: Nov. 1-May 10) and $129 (high season: May 11-Oct. 31) for standard room with queen bed. Rates include cooked-to-order breakfast.