The Brick Hotel on The Circle in Georgetown was once a Wilmington Trust branch. Now it’s an oasis for travelers, thanks to owner and innkeeper Lynn Lester.
Built in 1836, the hotel served Southern Delaware for more than a century. It was also used for short stints as a temporary courthouse and a post office.
Wilmington Trust converted the hotel into its main Sussex County branch in the 1950s. The building continued in that function until the mid-1990s, when the bank moved to a larger facility outside of town.
Owners of the building since 2000, Lynn and Ed Lester were unsure of what to do with it. Lynn retired from her job as director of administrative services for the Seaford School District. She and Ed, a prominent real estate agent for 35 years, bought the property just before Lynn retired.
Ed envisioned a professional center, given the shortage of office space in Georgetown. And though Lynn understood the logic behind her husband’s concept, she had other ideas.
“While I supported that, my whole thought process was, ‘Let me try this,’” Lynn says. “It used to be a tavern and an inn. It used to be a meeting place for people for 100 years. And just how cool would that be to return that piece of history to the community, town and state?”
But taking on the conversion of a historic building that had already undergone a significant refit a half-century earlier wasn’t something Lynn and Ed planned lightly.
State historic preservation rules required that they strike a careful balance between maintaining original features and adding modern amenities that guests would demand, all while integrating an on-site bar and restaurant and satisfying the code requirements of a modern commercial building.
Achieving that meant embarking on a gutting of the structure while reclaiming salvageable material and maintaining major historical elements like the original center stairway, window and door trim, and the narrow third-floor corridor.
To maintain historical accuracy, features the Lesters hoped to expose—such as the building’s former back brick wall and the hand-hewn beams in the former attic—had to stay hidden.
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In the plan Lynn and Ed developed over two years with Homsey Architects of Wilmington, one of the main goals was to replace the veranda to restore both the charm and usable outdoor space of the original building.
The new upstairs porch was constructed with manufactured outdoor flooring that mimics the look of wood. It is supported by an all-wood vertical structure that harkens back to the filigree of the 1836 original.
Inside, the former bank lobby has been converted into the Brick’s reception parlor, where comfortable couches and chairs—as well as the original fireplace, converted to gas—greet guests.
Though the building is rife with history that dates to before the Civil War, its more recent heritage remains inescapable. On the ground-floor porch, the bank’s night deposit drawer remains, as does access to the collection vault inside. Lynn notes that Wilmington Trust has been most helpful in trying to track down keys to the box so the Brick can use it as a mailbox.
The walk-in vault, still in place, will serve as a wine cellar and one of the many private dining rooms the couple designed around the main restaurant space at the rear of the building.
The bank’s drive-up window, meanwhile, was retooled as a covered drive-up entry with handicapped access. Any other remnants of the building’s former life as a bank are gone.
Downstairs, what had been office space for the branch’s loan officers and account managers has been reborn as Moose & Tini’s, a bar and lounge that the Lesters hope will become the centerpiece of Georgetown social life. The glowing refinished pine plank floors there come courtesy of the refurbished third floor.
Some of the planks originally measured as wide as 16 inches. Now milled to widths of 6 to 8 inches, they lend a sense of the Old World to the pub and complement the new custom-built cherry wood and granite bar, accented by Tiffany-style pendant lights.
Through the renovation, the team from Miranda & Hardt Contractors, under the direction of project manager Donna Albani from Sterling Enterprises, took great pride in uncovering artifacts from the building’s earlier days. Those items will be displayed in an alcove between the pub and the front dining room of an on-site restaurant, Tavern on the Circle, which shares the pine flooring and adds inlaid carpet as an accent.
It is here that the Lesters found a twin fireplace to the exposed hearth present before demolition began. “We uncovered it and had our trim carpenters replicate the mantel, so they did a wonderful job with that,” Lynn says.
Original window openings against the old back wall are represented by shallow alcoves.
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Throughout the hotel, Lynn’s vision takes shape in the form of a variety of antique pieces combined with high-quality reproductions that enhance the building’s inherent sense of history.
“My approach has been to use as many antiques as I can. So there’s a bit of a crossover that you’ll see as you go through the property,” she says. “I had a vision, I had a picture of what I wanted it to look like. It’s everything I had envisioned.”
By working with a Texas-based antiques dealer and doing her own footwork at regional antiques stores, Lynn was able to secure antique beds for all but one of the nine rooms in the hotel’s original structure, each with its own distinct character in wood, finish, and ornate carvings on the head and footboards. The sole reproduction among them—a king-sized rice bed—occupies Calvert’s Sanctuary, the largest suite in the hotel, which also doubles as the handicapped-accessible room.
Calvert Richardson, incidentally, was the former president of Wilmington Trust, and all the hotel’s second-story guest rooms are relevant to either the history of the building or the Lesters themselves. It’s a touch that Lynn says blends the structure’s past and present.
Another prominent theme is that of the pineapple, a symbol for hospitality and the logo for Ed’s real estate business. The most obvious example is the second floor room, The Mayor’s Manor, named for Ed’s brief stint as mayor of Georgetown. A more obvious pineapple theme is reflected in the upholstery of the room’s chairs.
Notable among the Brick’s amenities are the original fireplaces in most guest rooms, and the bathrooms, each of which contains a full-sized shower.
That was a fair trick, the Lesters note, in a building full of dormers and which previously had extremely limited plumbing. However, some bathrooms, particularly along Tinkers Hall on the building’s third floor, were still too small to accommodate a full complement of fixtures, so in several rooms the sink is located within the guest room.
In either configuration, utilitarian washbasins are replaced with lavish furniture pieces that mesh seamlessly with each room’s antiques.
In the end, Lynn says it is the culmination of an immense amount of imagination and work that gives her pleasure from the happiness it brings to guests.
“This is just what we’re after—a place where people can meet and gather and enjoy themselves but in a relaxed comfortable setting,” she says. “It’s all come together.”
Page 4: Get the Look
- Get back to the future. In order to restore the building’s charm while adding usable outside space, Lynn and Ed Lester built a new upstairs porch of manufactured outdoor flooring that mimics the look of wood.
- Be more than run of the mill. Repurposing office space as a modern bar and lounge with an Old World feel, the Lesters milled 16-inch pine planks from the third floor into widths of 6 to 8 inches to use for the pub’s floor.
- Complete the vision. Lynn wanted to use as many antiques as possible, so she worked with a Texas-based dealer while shopping regional antiques stores for beds for all but one of the hotel’s nine rooms.
- Run with a theme. A theme can be used sparingly to unify an entire structure. The pineapple from Ed’s real estate business, for example, is reflected in the upholstery of a few chairs.