Hillside Inn project nears
completion, late September
MADISON, Ind. Jerry and Caroline Fuhs sit uncomfortably
on boxes of marble floor tile stacked inside a small storage room in
the Hillside Inn. Its the only air-conditioned spot in the entire
four-floor hotel on a hot August afternoon.
Upstairs, workers saw plaster board, replace rusted plumbing pipes and
hang wallpaper on finished surfaces. Outside, one young man from Latvia
and two others from the Ukraine apply the final coat of stucco to the
newly molded exterior of the building.
The dusty hallways and dimly lit stairwells are starting
to take shape, but it still requires a vivid imagination to believe
that in a few short weeks, guests will be checking in. Newly arrived
fire places and jacuzzi tubs sit idle in many rooms, while workers maneuver
Jerry, 47, dressed casually but stylishly in a flowered shirt and cotton
slacks, eagerly discusses his plans for the rebirth of the once-dilapidated
hotel during a rare visit to Madison. Caroline, 45, sits nearby listening
to her husbands grand plans, occasionally reminding him of things
he fails to mention.
She is responsible for decorating the hotel and already has received
shipments of furniture that has temporarily been stored in the former
Things are starting to fall into place, but weve got a ways
to go, Caroline said.
The two have been through this routine before. And like past performances
in other towns, the citizens below anxiously await the completion of
the Fuhs pet restoration projects.
The Hillside Inn couldnt quite be labeled a restoration,
since it isnt that old. The 29-room hotel that sits majestically
on a hill overlooking the Ohio Valley was first constructed in 1923,
then rebuilt in 1965-66 following a devastating fire.
But it is certainly an undertaking to bring life back to the hotel,
which fell into disrepair over the last decade, leaving Madison residents
with little more than a glimpse of her past glory every time they crossed
the Ohio River bridge.
The Hillside Inn was once the playground of movie stars and travelers
passing through the area. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine
partied there while filming the 1959 movie, Some Came Running.
The Fuhs may not be recreating history here, but theyve certainly
rejuvenated spirits among Madison area residents who consider the Hillside
a gem that had lost its shine. More than 100 of them turned out for
an open house back in January when the Fuhs threw a party to introduce
themselves to Madison after buying the property for $480,000 plus a
$48,000 buyers premium at a Nov. 4, 1999, bankruptcy auction.
That night, the Fuhs explained their plans for the hotel and fed the
group hors douevres and wine.
The next party is sure to bring them back again to see the finished
product. Well probably wait and hold an open house about
a month after opening so we can work out the kinks, Caroline said.
Because of the hotels prominent location, Jerry Fuhs calls the
Hillside the anchor of the town. And hes determined
to make it a memorable experience for future guests. Its not a
labor of love by any means, however. Fuhs regards it purely as a financial
opportunity he couldnt pass up.
What attracted me to Madison was the historic aspects of the community
and the opportunity that became available when this property went up
for sale, Fuhs said. Were opportunity driven.
Fuhs would not disclose how much money he plans to sink into the Hillside
Inn renovation, referring to it only as substantial.
One new feature is an air lock entry way, complete with a handicap-accessible
ramp. Hes also added many design details to the exterior of the
building to update the hotels appearance. Hiring a staff of 12
to 15 people will be handled by Fuhs property manager, Tom Richardson,
based in Dale, Ind.
Fuhs plans to begin remodeling the former restaurant later this winter
in hopes of opening a fine dining eatery by spring.
We will probably start out running the restaurant ourselves but
would entertain offers to lease that part if the right person came along
and under the right circumstances, Fuhs said. A restaurateur would
have to meet the Fuhs standards of excellence, on par with the
level of quality he plans to bring to the hotel.
In the third phase, Fuhs will turn his attention to the house next door
to the hotel that served as temporary living quarters for Sinatra, Martin
and MacLaine in the fall of 1958. The previous owners lived there, and
Fuhs says that once remodeled, the house could provide up to six guest
rooms. A new retaining wall will be built soon just below the house,
and additional parking will be added.
The initial plan was to finish the first phase by mid-summer and begin
renting rooms in time for the Madison Regatta. That plan was delayed
after construction manager Kenny Murphy was able to open
the walls and ceiling to determine the extent of the decay to the plumbing,
heating, air and other mechanical systems.
The structure was in worse shape than we could have determined
before the sale, and as a result, we ended up replacing all the plumbing
and mechanical systems, Fuhs said.
His decision to introduce a number of additional amenities fireplaces,
jacuzzi tubs, Internet-accessibility also slowed the progress,
Were not discouraged, by any means, we just thought we would
have been open by now, Fuhs said.
Hes not alone. Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau officials
were hoping the Hillside Inn would be ready in time for this months
Chautauqua of the Arts festival, which annually attracts nearly 70,000
Fuhs isnt ruling that out but refuses to make any promises on
an opening date. Perhaps his experience with construction projects has
made him overly cautious.
Lets just say, sometime this fall, he says with a
Back to September 2000