Out With The Old

Hillside Inn renovation in high gear.

By Don Ward

MADISON, Ind. (March 2000) – The walls and floors have been stripped clean, and the ceiling and bathroom fixtures are gone. Sheet rock is going up over concrete. Soon, new sliding glass doors and light fixtures will replace old ones.

Tommy Proctor

Photo by Don Ward

Tommy Proctor of Madison scrapes the remaining
carpet glue from the
floor of a room at the
Hillside Inn.

New carpet, wallpaper, and heating and air conditioning units are on the way. Outside, workers are filling their sixth dumpster in three weeks.
Downstairs in the former restaurant dining room, doors, mattresses, commodes, sinks, TVs, telephones chairs, tables, lamps and dressers lie piled in neat stacks. The kitchen is littered with dishes, pots, pans and cooking utensils still sitting where they were the last day the restaurant operated two years ago. A deep fryer still holds oil and french fries; a bowl of tortilla chips was found sitting on the counter.
"It's like they just walked out and left everything where it was," says Ken Murphy, construction superintendent in charge of remodeling the Hillside Inn for new owner Jerry Fuhs.
Fuhs bought the 11-acre property for $480,000 at a November bankruptcy auction. He hopes to re-open the hotel by the Fourth of July.
Eight workers under Murphy's direction scurry between the 29 rooms, ripping out old carpet and stacking the various items. Outside, contractors haul in new lumber and plumbing pipes and heating units.
It's full steam ahead for Murphy, who has set up a makeshift office in one hotel room and sleeps down the hall in the only remaining room with a bed.
"I love this kind of work," says Murphy, 53, who resides in Jasper, Ind., with his wife, Sylvia, and has worked on Fuhs's projects for the past 10 years. "I've worked on all of Jerry's properties. He never runs out of projects for me to do."
Murphy said Fuhs takes a team approach to his projects by first listening to his employees' suggestions, then making the final decision.
Murphy, who has been in construction "all my life," helped build Baymont Inn in Dale, Ind. But it is Fuhs's many historic renovation projects that Murphy enjoys most.
"It's something you can really get involved in," he said. "You leave a part of your soul there. You can see the transformation take place, then stand back and admire what you've done."
Like an artist with a blank canvas, Murphy approaches such projects as the Hillside Inn with excitement. He started this one Jan. 17 by first stripping away the walls and ceilings to explore and assess the current condition of the plumbing and heating systems. He found leaks and makeshift patches of leaks. He found rusty valves and frozen vents.
"We're replacing nearly everything," Murphy says. "It has to be done, and we want to do it right."

Hillside Inn renovation

Photo by Don Ward

Dozens of toilets and sinks are among
the stockpiles of items removed
from hotel rooms as part of the Hillside Inn renovation. Owner Jerry Fuhs hopes
to re-open by July 4.

In one room, Jill Darbro scrapes carpet glue from the cement floor. She worked for the former owners, Tom and Patricia Thomassen for eight years, first as housekeeper then at the front desk. She has been retained by Fuhs to help with the project renovation.
"It needed it," said Darbro, a Vevay, Ind. native. "I don't like change, but I think this is exciting. It will have a whole new look."
Some rooms will be connected by a new doorway to create larger suites, complete with computer terminals, two telephone lines and other perks. Seven rooms will have jacuzzis. All rooms will get new telephones and cable TVs. Even the elevator and hallways will get a makeover.
A new boiler and hot water heater will be installed in the furnace room. And Fuhs is evaluating architecture plans for a new outside entry and possible exterior changes to the front of the buildings.
"Jerry hasn't made a final decisoin on the exterior, but we want to come up with a more up-to-date look," Murphy said.
Murphy is familiar with Fuhs's standards, after having directed remodeling of historic properties the Fuhs have bought in French Lick, Ind. They include Beechwood Mansion, Wilstem Ranch lodge, and Gov. Taggard's house at Mount Airy, where Fuhs and his wife, Carolyn, currently reside.
Murphy was raised in Indiana but spent much of his life in Phoenix. He had moved back home to Jasper and ran a hearing aide business when he met Fuhs at a Jasper, Ind., nightclub that Fuhs owned at the time.
"Jerry started me out doing odd construction jobs here and there, and before you knew it, I sold my business and went to work full time for him. Construction is my first love."
Murphy said working for Fuhs is exciting "because he's always getting into these unique projects – especially ones that have historical significance."
The Hillside Inn may not be historical, but Fuhs is making history in Madison by giving the 34-year-old structure new life. A re-opening party is in the works. And if Fuhs's track record is any indication, the renovated hotel will likely be as impressive as the original building that Dr. George Denny proudly opened on the site in 1924.

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