If you've tooled down Park Avenue in Mount Vernon lately, let us assure you that you are not seeing things. There is indeed scaffolding encasing the Brexton Hotel--the triangular hunk of high-Victorian exuberance that once housed Wallis Warfield Simpson but has spent the past 15 years as a crumbling, vacant pigeon coop. Yes, work is actually being done on the turreted brick edifice at 868 Park. But, no, the army of hard hats toiling at the site do not portend that the 121-year-old hotel's total rehab is at hand--yet. The battered brick pile is, however, getting a badly needed roof replacement and face-lift. "We don't have any finalized plans yet, other than we're going to get it watertight and presentable from the exterior," says Bill Carr, vice president of McLean, Va.-based Zumot Real Estate Management, which bought the Brexton at auction three years ago for $122,500. Carr puts the price tag for the necessary exterior work--new roof, repointing and repairing the brick, repairing/replacing the myriad ornate windows--at around $500,000.
Zumot is contemplating residential use for the six-story building, though nothing has been nailed down. "We've talked about creating suites for families who've brought patients to [Johns Hopkins hospital] from overseas," Carr says. He estimates that it will cost another $2 million to get the interior into shape.
Since the place was shuttered in 1987, a host of would-be developers have eyeballed the Brexton for rebirth, and the building has changed hands several times. Four years ago, an ambitious--if empty-pocketed--old-building enthusiast formed a nonprofit group bent on preserving the hoary hotel (Mobtown Beat, March 18, 1998). Peep at the group's Web site for a great photo tour of the place. Nothing has happened yet, largely because the old girl is so prickly to work with. Making the 1881 building compliant with 2002 fire-safety and accessibility codes is pricey and problematic. (The existing elevator shaft, for example, may be too small by modern standards, and, the Nose understands, the amazing spiral staircase housed in a corner turret is not fireproof). And on-site parking? Forget about it. The place fits its triangular lot like an Italian shoe--there isn't even room to put a Dumpster alongside it.
"It's a very tough building to make work, economically," says Jim Hall, a community planner for the city Planning Department. "But it's everyone's favorite building and it's been on the edge of falling down for so long that it's really unbelievable that they are fixing the roof. There was a lot of cheering when that scaffold went up."