Every year, thousands of people come through Bonclarken’s gates in Flat Rock, NC, to attend retreats, meetings, conferences, weddings, camps, family reunions, vacations or weekend getaways. And no one likely leaves the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Conference Center grounds without seeing The Hotel.
It’s hard to miss the three-story grand structure, straight from the Victorian era – with its regal spired tower and graceful wrap-around porch. But the grand old lady is showing her age, and has for some time. It was built in 1886, as a Victorian vacation home for Dr. Arthur Guerard and his family – a “Stick Style,” chalet-type structure with German influence.
The Guerard family lived in Charleston, SC, and vacationed in Flat Rock to escape the humidity of the low country during the summer. Eugeni Guerard, Arthur’s wife, liked Flat Rock much better than Charleston, and urged him to build a home for the family in the beautiful mountain setting, reminiscent of her native home.
The Guerards called their house the Heidelberg House, reflecting Eugeni’s German heritage. The original house was enlarged and the tower was added in 1893 when the family decided to become permanent residents.The last addition was the east wing, built in 1902. With this final addition, the house size increased to its present day 25,000 square feet.
The house underwent several changes in ownership before the structure and the 63 acres surrounding it became part of the ARP denomination’s conference center in 1921.
“The house, used for guests’ overnight stays, was quickly dubbed “The Hotel,” Bonclarken President Chip Sherer said. And since that time has represented Bonclarken’s mission to be a “Christian environment for inspiration and renewal.”
The Hotel at Bonclarken
These words instantly bring wonderful memories to so many. “I have heard many people refer to The Hotel as ‘this iconic building,’ this ‘historic symbol of our ARP faith heritage,’ this ‘inspiration to young and old alike’. She has stood as a beacon to thousands of Bonclarken guests since the opening of our ARP conference center in 1921,” Sherer said.
Many who return to Bonclarken year after year savor the sweet nostalgia of days there, especially as they walk into The Hotel… and the memories come flooding back. Many ARPs have memories of staying in the hotel while attending conferences and eating delicious home-style meals served in the central dining room. Others remember working at Bonclarken during their teenage years and staying the Hotel’s third floor rooms. Many more remember warm summer evenings, rocking on it’s wrap-around front porch.
The Hotel will be forever remembered in countless wedding photos of brides poised on the Hotel’s staircase or in front of the stained glass on the front porch. The gift shop has, and still does, draw countless numbers of children and adults who can hardly wait to see the donated hand-made items, canned items, candy and Bonclarken T-shirts for sale.
But the years have taken its toll on the old building. In her 1974 book, Bonclarken, a Story of Faith, Hope, and Tenacity, Peggy Murdock said, “The Hotel has always presented a problem. It is too expensive to fix up and too beautiful to tear down.”
A wooden structure has many problems as it ages, and these problems have plagued The Hotel for years. “Our Board has wrestled with the same question that other Bonclarken Boards have wrestled with for the past 50+ years – What do we do with The Hotel?” Sherer said.
“We’ve looked at The Hotel and have been overwhelmed at the idea of modernizing the entire building. However, with the opening of The Lodge, we are meeting the needs of our adult guests, so our Board was able to take a new look at the future of The Hotel.”
A New Perspective
During 2009, the Bonclarken Trustees formed a Master Plan Committee to develop a 25-year vision for the conference center’s grounds. This committee knew The Hotel was the first issue which needed to be addressed.
“Having The Lodge allowed our Master Plan Committee to think differently about our long-term plans for The Hotel,” said Bill Patrick, chairman of the Bonclarken Board.
The Master Plan Committee engaged consultants to help us think strategically about all of our land and its future use. We started with The Hotel, discussing the future use of the structure and future use of the land on which the structure rests. Did we foresee tearing down The Hotel and using that site for a new building? Just this thought, as you can imagine, generated some passionate discussion. But, ultimately, we unanimously decided we wanted The Hotel to stay as is.”
With the decision made to keep The Hotel, engineers were brought in to determine the soundness of the foundation and interior support beams. The engineers determined the foundation and entire base to be in excellent condition. Their main concern was the leaks around the dormers and around the flashing. The engineers determined The Hotel was in no danger of falling down from foundational issues, but was in the slow process of crumbling from within due to the leaks.
“With the engineer’s report, we knew we should focus on the exterior and by doing so, we could save the building and make very visible exterior improvements,” Patrick said.
A Master Plan
In 2009, a master plan was adopted with five main areas to be addressed: The Hotel, future youth offerings, future green space, security of the grounds, and future guest housing. The description written for The Hotel included “repair and preserve the entire exterior envelope as needed to protect the building, including foundation, roof, exterior walls, windows, wood trim, and paint.”
If you’re familiar with the inside of The Hotel and the beautiful parlors and guest rooms, you know the financial challenges that would be present in efforts to remodel or modernize the guest rooms. Simply bringing the internal wiring, plumbing, and other required items up to code would be over one million dollars, so focusing on the exterior would, hopefully, be a manageable project.
With the concept of what to do with The Hotel in place, the specifics needed to be determined. The Board appointed a committee of Paul Gettys, Bob Robinson, Jimmy Matthews, and Bill Patrick to assist the president with the development of a Scope of Work. Christine Tedesco, the architect who designed The Lodge, and Living Stone Construction of Black Mountain, NC, were selected to hash out a manageable, cost-effective plan to “repair and preserve” The Hotel’s exterior.
“Paul Gettys had led the effort in the 1980s to have The Hotel placed on the National Register of Historic Places, so he was very helpful in directing what work could be done,” Sherer said.
In addition to the Trustees, the Bonclarken Board of Advisors kept this issue on the front-burner during 2011 and 2012. Founded in 1998 to offer advice and encouragement, the Board of Advisors meets annually. Sherer credits this group with encouraging the Hotel project to have first place in the Master Plan initiatives.
Bob Robinson, chairman of the Board of Advisors added, “We were so pleased to have a chance to encourage rapid progress on this Hotel project. So many friends of Bonclarken view The Hotel as a great symbol of not only Bonclarken’s ministry, but in some ways a symbol of our entire denomination. No one wanted The Hotel to continue to disintegrate, so we jumped at the chance to suggest the project receive high priority.”
As you can imagine, once an intensive effort to create a plan began, problems surfaced immediately. The largest of which was the asbestos shingles (installed in 1951) that serve as siding for most of the building. The question of whether to remove the shingles, or cover them with new siding generated much discussion. The pros and cons of removing the shingles were discussed intensely, with a final decision made to remove the shingles after the Committee decided this action was the best long-term solution. Many other “give and take” discussions ultimately led to an agreed plan of work.
A Scope of Work
At the October 2012 meeting of the Bonclarken Trustees, the following renovations for the Hotel exterior were approved:
Removal of all asbestos siding by professionals in handling asbestos materials
Removal of all plank siding
Removal of decorative tin siding from dormers
Removal of all window trim
Removal of all lead based trim by professionals who are in lead paint removal;
Work to be done includes:
5” width HardiPlank siding for entire structure
5/8” Miratec window trim and corner boards to match existing trim and corner boards
Repair sashes and sills in all windows
Replace all rotted wood found in moldings, trim boards, balusters, front porch planks, soffits, handrails, and doors
Repair flashing in all needed areas
Add pebbledash stucco to entire foundation
Paint entire building
The cost for this work: $455,000. A campaign is now underway to raise these funds. Once the entire amount is pledged, the project will begin. The contractors expect completion in a five to six-month time frame.
“At the end of the project, not only will The Hotel be saved; not only will we have an attractive exterior of the building; but we will have a building that holds so many memories for generations of ARPs here for the future generations to enjoy as well. This symbol of Bonclarken and our ministry will shine, just as we hope Bonclarken shines as a symbol of the love of Jesus Christ,” Sherer said.
Bonclarken welcomes questions, comments, or support of this project.
Direct all to:
Bonclarken Conference Center
500 Pine Drive
Flat Rock, NC 28731