The Campbell House, once the home away from home in Lexington for elegant travelers, is getting a makeover.
The hotel on Broadway at Mason Headley Road opened in 1951 and swiftly found a following among the horsy set.
Now, a racehorse owner has teamed up with some prominent Thoroughbred breeders to bring it back.
Ike Thrash, who owned 2010 Kentucky Derby contender Line of David, bought the Campbell House out of receivership in October for about $5 million. His Dawn Properties, named for his wife, has begun a $10 million renovation that will "put it back where it was again."
From the outside, not much looks different yet, except for the new roof and orange construction barriers.
Inside, workmen have torn out the lobby, the restaurant and a hundred rooms to begin renovating the interior.
"Everything in it will be brand-new," Thrash said.
This will be his third or fourth hotel redo, depending on how you count. His company bought the Chancellor Hotel in Fayetteville, Ark., and turned the former Marriott/Radisson property into a modern boutique hotel.
The Campbell House, which is no longer a Crowne Plaza, will stay more traditional.
Thrash said that when he bought the property, he thought he would close it down for a year until the renovations were complete. But there already were bookings for several events, including the Keeneland sales and hundreds of reservations for Thanksgiving.
"They have a real following," Thrash said. So he kept it open and served turkey and dressing to a thousand hard-core Campbell House devotees in November.
"Until I really got into it, I didn't realize," Thrash said. "It still had a lot of loyalty."
It seems everyone he meets has either stayed at the hotel or has been to a class reunion or wedding reception or something there. He said he hopes they will again, once it is back to full glory.
Most of the renovations will occur over about 45 days this summer, Thrash said, with a grand re-opening in October or November.
The 287-room hotel will lose a few rooms, he said. The hotel was built in an H shape, then it was added onto over and over, until some rooms were built right behind others.
"There are probably 10 rooms where you open the curtains and there's a brick wall 10 inches away," Thrash said. "Some of that was not really thought out. So we've made storage rooms out of some of those rooms."
Others are becoming suites, so the total will be about 260 rooms, "which is plenty."
The rooms will return to the original Campbell House flavor rather than a boutique feel.
"It reminds me of the Greenbrier, but in a different scale," Thrash said. "A big old white house. We're just going to make it look as new as it can look. The furniture and fixtures will be like an old English hunt club. Steeped in horse business. We're just trying to take it back to where it was to start with."
The Taylor brothers of Taylor Made Farm are partners with Thrash, along with Pierce Brothers in Hattiesburg, Miss., in the Campbell House.
"With (the Taylors) and Keeneland, there will be a lot of support from the horse business," Thrash said. "They have so many connections, with so many people coming for the sales, it was a good idea."
Another good idea: keeping the Campbell House name.
"We are," Thrash said.
When he was flying to look at the property, he asked cab drivers to take him to the Crowne Plaza. Nobody knew it.
So he said: "Campbell House?"
Oh yes, everybody knew where that was, he said.