Mall store lauds renovations of old Taylor Hotel

Posted: March 1, 2014

The Winchester Star

The Cajun Experience restaurant owners Bryan Crosswhite (left) and Brandon Hidalgo serve some gumbo on Friday evening at a party hosted by Bell’s Fine Clothing in the store on the Loudoun Street Mall. The event celebrated the Taylor Hotel building renovations and the upcoming opening of the restaurant. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Stephen Shendow serves food to Kee Construction workers (from left) Jose Ibejo, Adam Cook and Tim McKee.
A mirror (right) was presented to the owners of Bell’s Fine Clothing on Friday by Kee Construction. The frame was made using seven kinds of trim from the renovated former Taylor Hotel building.

WINCHESTER — After watching the former Taylor Hotel deteriorate for years, the owners of Bell’s Fine Clothing decided that the impending rebirth of the property deserved a proper party.

So, on Friday evening, the clothing store temporarily was converted into a restaurant and bar.

The Shendow family threw a private party to recognize the KEE Construction workers finishing the building and to celebrate the resurrection of a once-proud building.

“We’re saying to their people, ‘Thank you for finishing this out,’” said Irvin Shendow, longtime co-owner of the shop.

“Now we’ve got a product the city, and [Frederick County], can be proud of. We have saved a piece of this area’s heritage.”

The Shendows’ shindig began at 5 p.m. with a seated meal for KEE’s employees and their family members. Other guests — customers and friends — were invited to join the celebration from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

The owners of The Cajun Experience, the restaurant scheduled to open at the new Taylor Hotel property this month, provided jambalaya and seafood gumbo (cooked on the Loudoun Street Mall) and Mardi Gras-style king cake for the crowd.

Dixie Rhythm, a local Dixieland and ragtime band, added to the New Orleans feel.

The event feted the $4.3 million project to redevelop the once-blighted historic structure.

The Winchester Economic Development Authority (EDA) and private partner Taylor Plaza LLC have teamed on the project.

The front section of the former hotel building is nearing completion. Tenants already call its five apartments home, and the Cajun restaurant will occupy the first-floor space and basement pub.

A commercial space and two 1,800-square-foot apartments are to be available later this year in the rear flytower, with four more floors to be developed later.

Between the two buildings, a grassy pavilion space for performances and other gatherings and a farmers market space are slated. Plans call for those areas to be ready for use in the spring.

The event was well-received by the guests of honor from KEE.

“It’s really nice that these folks took the time to consider what we’ve done,” said eastern Frederick County resident Jose Teran, a painting supervisor who brought four family members to the celebration.

“This is definitely different,” offered Adam Cook, a site supervisor from Cross Junction.

Danny McKee, president of operations for the construction company, said nearly all of the city-based firm’s 44 employees have worked on the project at one time or another, and about half of them attended the event.

He has seen wrap-up events for jobs before, but said this one — with the invitation-only guest list and the band — was far more elaborate and represents the interest the Shendows have had in seeing the project not just done, but done properly

“This is a testament,” McKee said, “to how bad they wanted the Taylor Hotel done.”

The family was given a memento of the old hotel, compliments of KEE. McKee said workers took pieces of seven types of trim from the building and used them to frame a mirror.

The construction workers weren’t the only people who agreed that they were benefiting from the event.

Bryan Crosswhite, co-owner of The Cajun Experience, said the celebration provided a great opportunity for the restaurant to showcase some of its food in advance of its opening, tentatively slated between March 17 and 20.

“We wanted to do something for the construction crew from KEE and welcome Winchester to our restaurant,” he said. “I feel like after tonight we’re no longer outsiders, we’re part of Winchester.”

The event isn’t the first meal the Shendows have thrown for those working on the project.

On Nov. 14, 2012, Stephen Shendow held a cookout for workers from Lantz Construction and its subcontractors who were involved in the first phase of the project.

Party planner Stephen Shendow said the Taylor Hotel’s restoration relieves him of a duty that wore on him over the years.

“As much vibrancy and as many beautiful restaurants as we have downtown,” he said, “you’d be surprised at the number of people who see one eyesore and ask, ‘What’s wrong.’

“We, being outside the front door of the building, don’t have to answer that question any more.”

Shendow said he tried to invite everyone who had a hand in the project — including EDA members and members of the City Council, who provided a much-needed loan for the project and funneled grant money to it — but he was sure he missed someone.

He said he realized on Thursday that he had omitted the architects, Blackburg’s Summit Studio, and called to invite them, but they were unable to attend.

The Taylor Hotel building at 119-129 N. Loudoun St. is the oldest structure continuously located on the Loudoun Street Mall aside from the 1840 Court House.

Bushrod Taylor owned and operated a tavern on the site that was destroyed by fire on Oct. 21, 1846, but he quickly began a rebuilding effort that resulted in the three-story brick hotel. The building became the centerpiece of the city’s social scene.

In November 1861, Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson began using a room as his temporary headquarters when he arrived in Winchester to plan his defense of the Shenandoah Valley in the Civil War.

It also was used as a hospital during the war and as a headquarters by Union forces.

Over the years, the Taylor space had various uses, including a theater, a retail store and a call center. It gradually fell into disrepair, and a partial roof collapse in 2007 hastened its demise.

The City Council twice declared the building blighted, which could have led to its demolition.

In May 2010 it was placed on Preservation Virginia’s list of the most endangered historic sites in the state.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com