Leechburg Hotel Project Comes Together a Piece at a Time
By Brian C. Rittmeyer, VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
Sunday, October 24, 2010
With its cracked walls, broken windows and dust-covered floors, any attempt to bring back a once-grand hotel on Leechburg’s Market Street would seem like an overwhelming task.
And then there are the ghosts.
It is a daunting task. The only way Linda Alworth can even approach it is one piece at a time.
“All this means nothing to me,” Alworth said recently as she looked around the dark area of the gutted building that will soon become a pub. “I can see it finished. I take one small area of it at a time.”
Alworth’s $2.2 million project to turn the 110-year-old building at 127 Market St. into the Lingrow Inn is moving into high gear. She expects a first-floor restaurant and bar to be open for business early next year.
During its life, the building has carried many names. In the 1920s, it was the National Hotel, and home to a pharmacy.
“We want to try to bring it back to the way it was, with a new fling,” Alworth said.
Borough council President Tony Defilippi’s grandfather, Joseph Defilippi, owned the hotel. He has a photograph of the hotel lobby with his grandfather, who died in 1925, behind the registration desk.
“It will be very nice to see the hotel being used again. I hope to see the entire building be renovated soon,” Defilippi said. “It adds a lot to the downtown area.”
David Farkas, director of the Main Street program for the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, called the project important not just for Leechburg, but for the entire region.
“When the project is complete, there will be an expanded dining offering in Leechburg (and) a place for people to stay who are visiting the area to take advantage of all the outdoor activities that are possible here in the Kiski Valley,” he said. “It will allow people who are visiting or here for special events or weddings to stay close by in Leechburg. We expect that to have an impact on the surrounding businesses in Leechburg and the whole area.”
In Defilippi’s old photo, a grand staircase leads up to the second floor. The hotel section of the building has been closed off for nearly 40 years, although the first floor has been home to various bars and restaurants in subsequent years. The roof had a bad leak, and there has been significant damage to the upper floors of the four-story building.
Closed off behind a wall and tiny doorway, the stairs are part of the charm Alworth plans to bring back.
“It will be grand. I can see the bride walking down the staircase,” Alworth said.
Hard work and tackling big projects come naturally to Alworth, a 56-year-old Gilpin resident who turned an 1850s barn in Gilpin into Lingrow Farm, one of the region’s top wedding venues. It was rated by local brides as a “best of weddings” pick for Southwestern Pennsylvania by the wedding magazine The Knot.
A granddaughter of immigrants from Poland and Germany, Alworth was one of five children who grew up on her family’s farm in Washington Township. Her father didn’t believe in sending girls to college.
“You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re never going to do anything,” she said. “How do you get things done? You do it. You don’t talk about it.”
Alworth started a landscaping business, Lingrow Landscaping, 17 years ago. She bought the farm at an auction six years ago and the event center is now in its fourth year of hosting weddings.
The inn will serve the farm with food and a place for guests to stay, once its 27 planned rooms are completed. But Alworth sees the building as serving the borough as well.
“I love this town. I love the people in the town. I believe in the businesses here. I believe they can do so much more,” she said. “I really want more business to come into Leechburg. This will be an anchor building.”
Alworth had a feasibility study done.
“We need places for people to stay and not just for the farm. We found out there is a real need,” she said. “We have the river. We have the kayaking now. We have great stores. We’ve been left in the dust long enough.”
Alworth paid $100,000 for the building in May 2009.
The economy has not been her friend. Getting the financing to do the work was not easy, and there were times Alworth thought it would never come and she’d be best to unload the building. But the financing finally came together.
Loans and her own money are paying for the work.
She didn’t get any government handouts. There are no grants out there for a for-profit business, unless she did a full and even more costly historical restoration. She will benefit from a program that phases in the property taxes on the value of the improvements to the building over 10 years.
Alworth’s landscaping employees are now gutting the building.
The guys talk of hearing people walking around upstairs. They’ve heard someone playing a piano that remains on the second floor. Sometimes the “ghost” is Alworth playing pranks, but other times…
They’ve removed the facade, exposing brick columns, and torn away plaster walls inside, exposing more warm brick.
They found an elegant arched doorway inside that had been covered up — and a significant crack near the front of the building. But Alworth says a structural engineer found the building to be in good condition, worthy of rehabilitation.
The restaurant and bar are coming first, to start a revenue stream. An architect is finishing plans, after which she’ll apply for building permits.
The bar, Olde Henry’s Pub, will be named for a brother, Henry Bazella, who lives in Georgia. Alworth says it will be like a New York bistro.
Most of the antiques of value in the building are long gone, but Alworth found a pile of solid old pub chairs – marked made in Poland – that she plans to have refurbished and use in the bar.
There’s an old cooler in the basement, where Alworth envisions a wine cellar.
The 90-seat restaurant will be named for her mother, Olive Bazella. The menu is a work in progress, but Alworth says the restaurant will serve healthy, good, affordable food.
“She was a wonderful cook, a wonderful mother,” Alworth said. “She’s probably looking down right now thinking, girl, you’re crazy.
“You have to be a little bit crazy,” she said.