Lighthouse Inn owner struggles through delays, plans 2021 restaurant opening
New London — A visitor to the Lighthouse Inn would have to look past the layer of sawdust and stacks of wood flooring waiting to be installed to envision a sun-drenched main dining room full of people eating, drinking and enjoying views of the water in the distance.
Lighthouse Inn owner Alywn Christy of Glastonbury can not only imagine the scene but said he is closer than ever to opening a bar and restaurant at the historical local landmark.
There is a lot of work to be done for sure, Christy said on a brief recent tour, but many of the elements needed to allow for an opening of the first floor to the public this year are in place.
Windows have been replaced. The plaster walls, ceiling, wood paneling and fireplaces have been repaired and refinished. The exterior has been painted. The HVAC system is new. The downstairs bathrooms are fully renovated. New lighting fixtures have been installed in many places and the remaining chandeliers and wall sconces are being cleaned.
“We’re keeping the history of this place intact as much as possible and salvaging everything we can,” Christy said.
He admits the renovation effort is moving more slowly than he had anticipated when he and a partner purchased the inn at a city auction for $260,000 in 2016. The inn has been vacant since it abruptly closed in 2008, and time and lack of upkeep took its toll on the nearly 120-year-old building.
But Christy said the structure is in good shape and repairs to the roof early on halted any further water damage to some of the two dozen guest rooms upstairs.
The inn holds countless treasured memories for locals who recall its heyday as the place for special events, dinners and dancing.
“So many people have so many wonderful stories,” said Carol Jones, 67, who grew up in the home at 206 Lower Blvd., essentially the backyard of the 48 Guthrie Place inn. She is the great-niece of the former owners, brothers William and Albert Ronnick, who ran the inn from the 1940s to the 1970s, at a time when it was “the place to be.”
Jones reminisced about the good times before the inn changed hands and a downward spiral started.
Her parents were married at the inn. She had her birthday parties on the property. She was friends with the staff and hobnobbed with summer guests. She roamed the inn’s hallways and has original paintings from Harry Rodvogin, an artist in residence at the inn.
“My friends and I used to clean the rooms while the maids sat in their office and they gave us coins that we then went and spent on candy at the corner store on Lower Boulevard,” Jones said. “It really was an integral part of New London and the neighborhood.”
It was heartbreaking to see the inn’s downfall, its deterioration and eventual blight on the neighborhood, Jones said. She, along with plenty of inn neighbors, have held out hope that someone would come along to bring it back to life.
Jones said Christy has a tough task in trying to satisfy people who have so many high expectations.
“It was gorgeous, beautiful, stately,” Jones said. “I would love to think it could happen. I want it to happen. I want the building to come back to life. I wish him luck. It’s a huge undertaking.”
Christy said his energy is focused on opening the restaurant. Complete renovations of the more than two dozen guest rooms in the main building, known as the Mansion, will come later.
While the restaurant is his main focus, it’s been hard not to be distracted with other projects on the 4.2-acre property. Christy said his crews has started the cleanup of the Carriage House to the rear of the property, which at one time held another two dozen guest rooms. The copper pipes have been stripped from the building by vandals, and there was evidence of people staying inside.
He’s also recently hired a contractor to complete landscaping on an overgrown patch of wooded area that borders Parkway South, the former entrance to the property that had become a dumping ground for an assortment of debris hidden in a jungle of overgrowth.
Several recent storms brought trees down in the area. He’s had contractors remove the trees and undergrowth and strip the area. He said numerous truckloads of earth have been taken out and will be returned after it is screened. For the time being, Christy said, the area will be planted with grass and perhaps one day be opened up to small gatherings.
“That’s my main focus here,” Christy said while walking the uneven grounds. “Cleaning this up and making it presentable and not an eyesore.”
In addition to having some trouble finding financing for the project, Christy said his silent partner and friend died suddenly last year of a heart attack. It was his partner, whom he declined to name, who had helped convince him the inn was an investment worth making. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a 30% jump in material costs and delays in shipping. Christy figures he’s invested more than $1 million to date.
With support from some new outside source, Christy said, “You can literally see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
He credits city officials for having patience in light of the delays and some complaints about the state of the property and some of the recent work.
From the planning office to the building department to the fire marshal’s office, Christy said city officials have been responsive, answered questions and provided advice.
“The support has been there and I’ve been grateful,” he said.