Driving past the former Hurst office furniture warehouse, not much appears to have changed. But inside, 333 Short Street has come back from near death, which is probably fitting since it was originally a hospital.
And not just any hospital.
In 1895, the "lady managers" of what was then the Protestant Infirmary built a state-of-the art annex, with walls made of hollow terra-cotta tiling to promote better ventilation, stated an article from an April 10, 1895 Lexington Leader.
"On each floor the wards will be octagonal with a central chimney, such as used in the John's (sic) Hopkins hospital, the chimney and fireplace being desirable for ventilation," according to an article about the building which appeared in the Kentucky Leader. The article goes on to say the building was to be heated by steam and fitted with modern conveniences, including an elevator, electricity and electric bells.
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Today, two of those octagonal wards are offices that would be the envy of many office dwellers, with cast-iron fireplaces with slate mantels, exposed brickwork and hardwood floors.
The building was renovated by Zeff Maloney's Sable Holdings, which bought 333 Short along with the other former Hurst office building on Short and adjoining parking lots in January 2014 for about $1.2 million.
Since then, Maloney has been tearing apart years of patchwork changes and attempting to piece together the history of the building.
He declined to say how much he spent on the renovation: "I've spent more restoring this one building than any other space I've done," he said. And he has redone several downtown buildings, including The Livery. Most recently he purchased the Merit Furniture building at 157 North Limestone.
Many people know that the 333 Short location was once the old Samaritan Hospital building. But Maloney was stunned to learn that from the mid-1920s to 1941 or so it was the home of the Woolfolk Coffee Co., which apparently also roasted peanuts.
As workers began pulling up old flooring in the upper stories of the building, they found old coffee beans everywhere, Maloney said. On the walls, Maloney left bits of plaster that say: "Please keep peanut shells off the floor."
He kept everything with the Woolfolk name on it that he could, and he plans to display signs and other artifacts. His workers chipped plaster off for months. In all, they removed seven Dumpsters full of plaster, weighing from 9 to 11 tons each.
Amazingly, Woolfolk had roasters on the third floor. Maloney found reinforced steel beams holding up thick poured concrete, and chutes to funnel the goods down.
The third floor is now home to Indigo Salon and Wellness, and an Internet company called Spring & Sprout, which markets support services for pediatric dentists and orthodontists all over the country.
Below, in the second floor octagon, is Kentucky Space, which is helping launch science experiments with NASA; film music composer AJ Hochhalter and his brother-in-law, Corey Maple, whose other business works with dentist offices, too. In the first floor offices are lawyers and other professionals.
"There are 13 suites and 12 are leased," Maloney said. The biggest suites lease for about $2,500 a month, he said. Only the first floor octagon remains, along with the stonewalled basement and the attic, with soaring ceilings that he hopes to turn into an event space.
Maloney is discussing the possibility of opening a restaurant or a high-end bourbon bar on the ground floor or basement down the road, he said.
In what was originally an annex of the hospital, built about 1900 as a round operating room and attached dispensary, are now the regional offices of AFLAC, the insurance company fronted by a duck. The building was enclosed almost entirely in the 1950s and thus preserved. Only the back half of the operating room was lost.
A small attached one-story building on the east side is still being renovated. It will be a new home furnishing and design shop, Haven Home & Garden that Maloney's wife, Dottie, and partner Sara Luftman are opening in late September.
PrintLex is located in the building facing Short Street and two more professional businesses are moving into other parts of that building soon. This building is located where the original White Cottage stood, a residence built in the early 1800s by Farmer Dewees where Elm Tree Lane is today. White Cottage, which was the original infirmary, was torn down in 1940.
Behind White Cottage was another building which became the "Colored Ward" of the infirmary, according to Sanborn maps of 1907. That's because most of the people that lived in the area at the time were blacks, many of whom owned local businesses, said Yvonne Giles, who has researched Lexington's historically black East End.
Last week, Giles and Bettie Kerr, director of Lexington's Division of Historic Preservation, got a look at Maloney's renovations. They marveled at the curved brickwork, laid by Tandy & Byrd, a construction firm owned by a pair of black skilled craftsmen.
"You are to be commended for what you've done," Giles told Maloney. "This is beautiful. It's great to see it coming back to life."
Maloney kept as many of the original architectural details as he could, including the grills for the vaunted air shafts that were so revolutionary in the building's original design.