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First Look: Hotel St. Clair Apartments

Brent Warren Brent Warren First Look: Hotel St. Clair ApartmentsAll photos by Brent Warren.
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New residents started moving into the Hotel St. Clair Apartments in July, marking the beginning of what could be considered the fourth chapter in a venerable building’s long history.

Originally built in 1911 as a hospital, the building at 340 St. Clair Ave. was bought by William and Zylpha Garret in 1944 and converted into a hotel. After the hotel closed in 1976, the building sat empty for over 25 years before it was renovated and turned into low-income senior housing.

The Kelley Companies bought the building last year from the nonprofit that ran the facility, Community Housing Network (new affordable housing was found for the former residents, with many of them ending up at Terrace Place, CHN’s new development on East Ninth Avenue in Weinland Park).

Michael and Ben Kelley, of the Kelley Companies, along with Site Supervisor John Johnson, recently gave Columbus Underground a tour of the building, which now features 32 market-rate apartments.

“We tried to play up the boutique hotel era,” said Michael Kelley, pointing to the tile floor and the chandelier that hangs above it in the lobby of the building.

Photos hang in the hallways of some of the legendary musicians who stayed at the hotel through the years – names found in a recovered guest sign-in book include Duke Ellington, Count Basey, James Brown, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald.

Quotes from other famous guests adorn the walls, and many of the design details harken back to the heyday of the hotel, when it served a predominantly African American clientele who were not welcome at Downtown hotels.

Johnson, whose roots in the neighborhood go back three generations, said that he sees the renovation as a fitting tribute to the couple that ran the hotel.

“Mr. and Mrs. Garrett, they did a lot in the community, even before they bought the hotel,” he said.

Twenty of the building’s apartments are occupied and another four are leased, with move-ins scheduled to happen soon. The largest unit offers two bedrooms and 750 square feet, although most of the apartments are significantly smaller, with the smallest clocking in at 263 square feet. Rents range from $500 to $1,250 per month.

“The people that have come in to look, they haven’t blinked at the size,” said Michael Kelley. “It’s the demographic — we have a student at Capital, a graduate student in dance at Ohio State, CCAD students — it’s kind of a younger, artistic energy. They like being close to Downtown, they like that all the units are unique, and they buy into the history…it really seems to resonate with them.”

The two houses that sit to the north of the main building look like single family homes from the outside but are divided up into apartments. Originally built as housing for nurses and connected to the hospital via an underground tunnel, a multi-level rear addition has connected all three buildings since it was added as part of the 2002 renovation.

Other highlights of the building include a fifth-floor common area and the former hospital operating room, which is now a studio apartment featuring the original tile floor, curved walls and a full bank of windows.

To coincide with the opening of the apartments, the Kelley Companies commissioned a mural for a building across the street. Michael Kelley said that they have also looked into other ways to contribute to the neighborhood, and hope to have something to announce on that front soon.

The stretch of St. Clair Avenue that the building sits on, between Mt. Vernon Avenue and Atcheson Street, has not seen the wave of house renovations or new construction that other pockets of the Near East Side have.

“There are a lot of vacant houses, but we hope this’ll be a catalyst, at least in the immediate area,” said Kelley, adding that renovation work recently started on a building two houses down from the St. Clair. He also said that the Kelley Companies have looked into buying lots and houses in the area, but don’t currently have anything in contract.

For more information, see www.hotelstclairapts.com.

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