I’ve never been so happy to have been wrong.

So wrong.

When the plans first developed for the rebirth of the Elks Club building in downtown Kenosha, I was convinced it was too late.

The years of neglect — not to mention water damage and vandalism — had destroyed the building. Or so I thought.

Whenever someone asked me what I thought of the Gorman Co.’s plans, I would answer, “I think the building is too far gone to be saved, but I’ll be happy to be wrong.”

And wrong I was.

Very soon The Stella Hotel and Ballroom will open its doors and once again welcome people to this Kenosha landmark.

It’s no exaggeration to say this is the biggest thing to happen to downtown Kenosha since the HarborPark development.

A long history

When I toured The Stella last week with Kenosha News photographer Sean Krajacic, the first thing Yvette Lamphier, director of sales, asked me was, “What was the last event you attended here?”

I had to think back. My sister, Kathy, had her wedding reception at the Elks Club in 1984. The Kenosha News hosted a Christmas party there for all the employees in the late 1980s.

In more recent years, however, I’ve watched the old gal sit dark and silent.

But no more. The Stella will open its hotel, bar and cafe on April 1, with the main restaurant opening on April 15. (To celebrate tax day?)

As Sean and I walked through the building with Lamphier and Catherine Cicero, the catering and sales coordinator, all that history washed over us.

The paint is fresh, as are the carpets. Everywhere we looked, workers were putting the finishing touches to various areas.

Highlights include:

The 1844 Table & Mash Restaurant and Bar, which will offer “American cuisine in a comfortable and inviting atmosphere reckoning back to yesteryear.” The bar will feature 30 different types of whisky, Lamphier said. “This is a new bar,” she said, “but it was constructed to match what would have been here 100 years ago.”

The main dining room used to be an outdoor patio and seats 160 people. A smaller dining room seats 48-50 people and is wheelchair accessible.

“We’ve already been busy booking events,” said Lamphier, who’s been working for the venue since last July.

The Stella Hotel, with 80 rooms — 12 “Heritage rooms” in the original building and 68 hotel rooms in the new building.

A rooftop lounge on the new building that will be open in warmer weather.

The two-story ballroom, complete with 100-year-old chandeliers from the original building. “They were stored by someone who used to work here,” Lamphier said. “They’ve been cleaned up and restored.”

Like my sister and countless other brides, the ballroom will welcome wedding parties.

“We have 11 weddings booked so far,” Lamphier said. “October 2020 is completely filled, and we’ve had couples changing their date to get into The Stella.”

Because of the renovation project, couples “have been booking this sight unseen,” she said.

It’s no surprise The Stella has been doing a brisk business; Lamphier said “75 percent of the brides booking this venue have ties to the building — their grandfathers were Elks Club members or their parents had prom here.”

Overall, she said, the renovation work is “keeping as much of the original features as possible, bringing back that flair.”

The ballroom features huge windows overlooking downtown and an outdoor balcony.

“Brides love that balcony,” Lamphier said as we stepped outside on a sunny winter morning.

Stepping back into the sparkling ballroom, Lamphier told us, “There was a hole in the ballroom floor from a fire in the kitchen below it. There was such unbelievable damage; this is a true renaissance.”

For her part, Cicero says the job “is never boring. I love helping people make their dreams come true.”

As I said, I was wrong. Happily, blissfully wrong. Welcome to Kenosha, Stella. I look forward to many years together.

Have a comment? Email Liz at esnyder@kenoshanews.com or call her at 262-656-6271.

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