Some feared the historical Kemp Hotel would face the same fate as the Zimmerman mansion in Maxatawny Township, but the former restaurant on Kutztown Road was saved by a Kutztown business owner.
A dumpster at the front of the house was little indication of what actually lay inside. With cautious steps, we made our way through each room downstairs and up. There were gaping holes around the window frames, rubble across the floor, an area where the ceiling tile belied storm damage and a damp cold that made the old building more frigid than the February chill outside. It was a scene many people would have run from, but for Brandi Woodard, it was the kind of work she put into past renovations.
“I love the place. It’s going to be wonderful, but the damage is a little bit more than I thought it was. We’re getting a lot of volunteer people who are coming to help us and that’s keeping costs down so far,” said Woodard, owner of the Yoga House in Kutztown. “I’m going to have to pay for everything else, but at least the trash out isn’t costing me anything. We’ve been here about a month trashing this place out.”
The building Woodard decided to renovate is one of great interest to many people because of its historical value. It has been known as Kemp’s Hotel, Whispering Springs Inn, and Seasons Bar and Grille, but more notably as Levan’s Tavern; it was reputed to have been a meeting place for political officials such as John Adams during the Revolution.
The tavern had been vacant for a number of years and allowed to deteriorate to the point where the upper level needs to be reinforced near the stair well to prevent any further sinking of that section. The one thing Woodard had not anticipated was the reluctance of banks to finance her project or insurance companies not wanting to insure a building from the 1700s without charging exorbitant fees.
“I took every dime I had and bought the building. The downside is that I have to sell my house because this is going to take a whole lot more money than the bank is willing to give me owning two properties,” said Woodard.
Woodard plans on turning the second floor into living quarters for her family. It means downsizing from a 3,200 square foot home with five bedrooms, a finished basement and swimming pool to one level. Her home is also known as the Yoga House. She had purchased it three years ago and had gutted it with the help of her family.
“I was looking to expand my business. I drove by this place a gazillion times and never thought it’d be something I’d be interested in, but once I got in here and finally saw that I could make this space work for me without having to break down walls and changing things. I’m going to work with the way the building is. I don’t want to change it; the bones are good.”
Woodard has plans for one room she considered a bonus. Being well lit with ambient light, she would like to turn it into a café/juice bar where guests could step out to a deck overlooking a pond where a few Koi were found abandoned. She also plans on fixing the fountain that lies in the middle of the pond.
“I’m going to have my Yoga House here; that’s going to be the whole main dining room for the yoga studio. I am starting a business called, Nectar’s Café and Juice Bar; that’s what this will be,” Woodard said as she looked around her bonus room. “The two smaller dining rooms are going to be cyber cafés and just make a go of it. I’ve never owned a restaurant or anything like that.”
Woodard’s current business is booming even more so with her new trademarked workout called Yodates, she just released a three DVD program.
“It’s an empowerment fitness technique that is totally safe for everybody. It’s focusing on finding that power source as a woman from center. We call it bad club dancing; it’s a lot of fun, but it don’t go anywhere.”
Woodard had to find a way to be able to workout safely having suffered herniated disks and a bad knee. She can’t step, do zumba, run, or anything else that requires high levels of movement.
“I wanted something that honored that whole mind, body, spirit integration; empowerment,” said Woodard.
Woodard has plans of a grand opening May 1 of this year. With the help of friends, neighbors, and her husband, Bert Savory, who happens to be a contractor, she feels positive about her goal. For Woodard, the hardest moment was draining her life’s savings and selling her home.
“I didn’t think I would have to sell my house; I didn’t think that it would be as difficult to get financing. I’m not trying to get a mortgage; I bought this with my money. What I’m trying to get is fix-up costs and lenders just don’t want to lend especially on an old building,” said Woodard. A savings account at the Citizens Bank, Kutztown, was opened where people have contributed funds. There are also chairs and tables that Woodard needs to sell off to clear the place out. Some of the chairs are brand new.
Going beyond expanding her business, there was an appeal to owning a piece of history as well. There is also tremendous support from people who care about the preservation of a historical site. David Minnich, the Greener Side Landscape Design and Maintenance, has offered to do the landscaping. Bowers Sales and Rental provided tanks for heat while she works on the place. All Woodard needs to do is pay for the gas.
Another big challenge for Woodard will be when she is able to move from her spacious living area to an apartment-sized space with her husband and her two teenage daughters, Adeena and Ataya.
Follow the renovation’s progress on theFacebook pageSaveKempHotelLevanHouse.