By Rich Place
From being raised several feet in the air to having the majority of its interior completely gutted, it’s been an interesting year for the former West Valley Hotel — and the renovations aren’t done just yet.
Following construction last year of two wooden decks on the front of the structure, the recent addition of new siding has been the most visually striking improvement to passersby on Route 240. Inside, the building is undergoing a complete overhaul.
Renovation of the landmark structure has been led by West Valley resident Doug Studd, who recently walked around inside the structure outlining both his plans and his dreams — including his new goal of having the bar and restaurant open for business early this summer.
Last May, as he stood watching crews pour a new basement as the structure was jacked up in the air by 18 hydraulic pumps, Studd said he had a “lofty” goal of being open by last Labor Day.
“I blame that on my inexperience,” he said about missing that mark. “This has been a new journey for me and it’s been very interesting. A lot more in detail, a lot more expense than I ever anticipated.”
The expense has been offset somewhat by a $159,729 state grant, but much of the work has been Studd’s own money.
“We’ve done a lot of stuff since (last spring),” Studd said. “A lot of the stuff we did you can’t appreciate it unless you see it. If you just walked in there now you might think we didn’t get a lot done.”
But tasks like leveling out the floors — “it’s like a game of whack-a-mole, you jack one up and the other goes down,” Studd said — were necessary and time consuming. Supporting walls had to be constructed, too. Plus, work slowed down over the frigid winter.
Studd purchased the building at a county tax sale about two years ago; the business had most recently been operating as a restaurant and bar on the first floor. Three hotel rooms, an apartment and a large empty hall on the second floor haven’t been used in years.
Now Studd has a vision for the entire building, starting with the first floor. The bar area on the building’s south side has been completely gutted and is currently a collection of construction equipment and supplies. The bar itself is gone.
Notable to former frequent visitors of the business is the relocation of the bathrooms — which had a unique location right in the center of the room, surrounded by offset hallways — to the back of the building, now opening up the bar room.
The other dining area on the structure’s north side has also been significantly gutted and awaits new tables. Studd said the area will be used for those who want to dine away from the bar and can be used for private parties.
The kitchen area is also completely empty, with only faded iconic black and white tile outlining where appliances used to be. Studd said he plans to eventually order new kitchen equipment.
What won’t be seen to the public, but is a significant improvement, is the basement — once a collection of narrow hallways, small rooms and dirt crawl spaces — which is now all concrete and the entire footprint of the structure. Plans for down there aren’t finalized, Studd said, but he already has wall framing erected for a refrigerated area for tap beer under the bar.
Once the first floor opens, Studd said focus will turn to making affordable fish frys and other food that will keep people coming back. But he also explained his hope of one day renovating the spacious room upstairs, located in the southeast corner of the building. The room features an original bandstand and enough space to fit plenty of people, whether it be for bingo nights or line dancing, two of Studd’s ideas. A door to the outside now goes out to a brand new second floor deck — inspired from when Studd lived the the Carolinas and bringing back an original aspect of the building.
Studd also hopes one day to move into the apartment, located in the southwestern corner upstairs. He doesn’t plan on getting into the hotel business but wants to renovate the three upstairs rooms in case someone needs to stay, he said.
Studd said “most of the hard work” is out of the way, with opening now dependant mostly on the schedule of contractors for work on the electric, plumbing, heating and air conditioning and drywalling. There’s also items, like the septic system, to be approved by the county.
“Things are going to start popping now,” he said.
Studd admitted the whole concept of putting so much work into the former bar and restaurant may seem crazy to some — it would be the only restaurant open in West Valley besides Ashford Junction Diner, about six miles south of downtown — but he’s passionate about it.
He said conversations with people on the street — evidenced by the amount of old photos he has acquired from those familiar with the business — helps keep him going on his mission to provide a bar and restaurant to this small community.
“I never realized how much this business meant to people in this town,” he said.