Williamsport’s new destination
Almost 130 years old, the former City Hall on Pine Street in downtown Williamsport has been regally restored and reinvented as a boutique hotel drawing visitors from around the world, thanks to one local family.
“Guests have come from Germany, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia and England, just to name a few. I am not sure why they come (to Williamsport), but we get a lot of repeat business,” says Tim Butters, co-owner of hotel with his wife, Sandra Butters.
Operating since 2016, the hotel is now adding a restaurant, lounge, tiki bar and more guest suites.
“We were so busy in the hotel that it made sense,” says Tim.
Despite being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, the 1893 building housing almost met the wrecking ball in the 1980s.
After Richard H. Lundy saved it from demolition, the Butters acquired the 27,000 square foot behemoth years later. It was then that the grand building was on its journey to a full restoration.
The boutique hotel elevates the city and its downtown. It is not something you expect to see in a small city.
Rather, it seems to have been dropped here from Manhattan or Los Angeles. It doesn’t look like a big box hotel or operate like one. For instance, there is the noticeable absence of a front desk, allowing for contactless check-in, long before the pandemic demanded it.
“Just because there is no contact, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people on the premises to help when necessary,” says Sandra.
And then there are the 25 suites and rooms. Not one of them is identical, thanks to unique layouts and the prevalence of bespoke furniture. The rooms fall into one of two distinct design camps: Industrial or traditional.
The industrial rooms, a.k.a. Hulk rooms (named after Josh Butters’ business Hulk Destruction, Construction, and Salvage Co.), were conceived and designed by Josh, Tim’s son and Sandra’s stepson.
In Josh’s hands, repurposed materials became wall coverings, end tables, light fixtures, bed frames, mirrors, countertops or whatever his creative mind engineered.
“Josh would save everything,” Tim remembers. “When we used to knock down buildings, he would save the sprinklers and old doors. He was always thinking outside the box. He was more like an artist and wanted everything to be different. He created a destination, not just a hotel.”
In the Mark Twain room (named after the writer’s 1869 visit to Williamsport), Josh built a four-poster bed that sits under a towering ceiling adorned with hand-painted aluminum panels. A custom light fixture and handmade desk complete the room. The sublime design invites the eye to linger.
When Josh passed away in 2018, the Butters family was heartbroken, but decided to finish what they started.
“We had to make the difficult decision to go on without Josh, but we knew that we couldn’t copy his artistry. We didn’t even want to try and knew that we just couldn’t do it like Josh,” says Sandra. “We love that we can see Josh all around us here.”
The Butters moved forward with a different aesthetic.
“The newer (rooms) are much more traditional rooms with softer colors and are not industrial,” says Sandra. They include luxe elements such as fireplaces, freestanding soaker tubs and candles, creating a soothing atmosphere.
Whether traditional or industrial, all rooms have one thing in common: Each is custom named. That touch came from Sandra’s love of local history.
Room names include The Lumber Room, The Mayor’s Suite and Little League Room, to name a few.
Sandra says with a laugh, “You can’t have a hotel based on the history of Williamsport without the Little League Room or Lumber Room.”
Since the city and the building had so many stories to tell, Sandra didn’t have to look far for inspiration
In addition to the suites and rooms, design permeates the rest of the hotel. From the minute you enter through the massive, steel front doors to the hallways to the lobbies, not an inch of space lacks design.
Throughout the hotel, mural-sized black and white photographs cover walls. According to Sandra, the Community Arts Center, JV Brown Library, Lycoming College, Pennsylvania College of Technology , Thomas T. Taber Museum and Williamsport Sun-Gazette all supplied her with countless images.
“(Those pictures) led me down the rabbit hole where each picture took me to something else and I love the stories old photographs tell,” she says.
And more images blanket the walls of The Newsroom Grill and Spirits.
“The Sun Gazette helped with the pictures in the Theater Room. And the idea came to mind, we could tell the story of Williamsport that much more by adding old news articles with these pictures,” Sandra explains, adding that the newspaper also influenced the restaurant’s name.
Managed by Scott Caverly, the restaurant has a diverse menu.
“It is an upscale steak house with some chicken dishes and pasta and all-American dishes. We have 5 or 6 different steaks including a Wagyu steak and it is all high quality,” says Tim.
In addition to the restaurant, a lounge and outside tiki bar have been added. The Blind Tiger lounge gets its name and design impetus from the speakeasies that flourished during prohibition.
Weeks before WBL went to print, news broke that the city of Williamsport is considering selling the most recent city hall on West Fourth Street.
Would the Butters consider buying it? Sandra says, “It’s a hard pass for me. I want to focus on putting all my efforts into this building, which is still a work in progress.”