Visiting Lexington and the Rockbridge Area, 2017
Lexington and Buena Vista offer a refreshing change.
Both towns are extremely walking-friendly. Indeed, walking
the streets of these Valley towns is the best way to see all
there is to see, and to appreciate them.
Downtown Lexington undertook a major reconstruc-
tion project in the 1970s upgrading the streets, placing
utility wires underground and putting in brick sidewalks.
This investment by the city, concurrent with efforts by
local preservation groups, acted as a catalyst for redevelop-
ment, rehabilitation and adaptive use of old buildings in
the downtown area. Today, Lexington is unusual in having
a vibrant downtown area. The character of the downtown
area changed over the past quarter-century. Traditional re-
tailers such as department stores and hardware stores left
downtown for the outskirts of town, and were replaced by
more visitor-oriented shops such as art galleries, antique
shops and shops featuring local and regional products. New
restaurants offering a diversity of cuisines beckon the hun-
gry tourist, and serve locals who work and even live in the
Lexington’s walking tours start at the Lexington Visi-
tor Center at 105 West Washington St. Pick up their ex-
cellent tour map that gives easy directions on a number of
tours of varying lengths.
8. Major renovations to downtown
Lexington’s Robert E. Lee Hotel keep
the period details while installing
amenities for today
In the late summer of 2014, Ugo Benincasa and Up to
Par Management officially re-opened the doors to downtown
Lexington’s Robert E. Lee Hotel. A completely remodeled bou-
tique hotel, it is located within walking distance of the city’s
shops, museums, and art galleries, as well at the campuses of
Virginia Military Institute or Washington and Lee University.
Originally opened in 1926, the six-story hotel was an
instant landmark as downtown Lexington’s tallest building,
and likely the first building in Lexington with an elevator.
For a half century, the hotel was Lexington’s most presti-
gious accommodation. Generations of W&L and VMI par-
ents stayed at the Robert E. Lee. The hotel’s meeting rooms
and restaurant hosted the local Rotary Club meetings and
the ballroom on the second floor was the site of grand par-
ties and in the 1960s and ‘70s. Ballroom dance classes for
nervous middle school-age boys and girls.
But, by the 1980s, older downtown hotels were fail-
ing. More modern hotels and motels on the edge of towns
snagged the traveler off the Interstate, and college parents
wanted the larger rooms and amenities of the chain hotels.
The Robert E. Lee closed as a transient hotel and was re-
modeled into apartments for low-income individuals.
But the bones of the handsome Jazz-age hotel re-
mained behind the sheetrock. About three years ago. Be-
nincasa, a local developer and restaurateur acquired the
hotel, and began planning a renovation that would restore
the building to its glory and adapt it to the realities of today.
Naturally, the building needed a complete gutting and
reconstruction from the inside out. Plumbing, electrical and
HVAC systems were replaced. The configuration of small
rooms and antiquated
wholesale redesign of
the interior space. An
early decision was to
construct the top floor
as condominiums with
the third, fourth and
fifth floors reserved for
As much as
possible, original ar-
have been kept. The
original 1928 elevator
cars, with completely
and electrical systems,
have been used. Arch-
ways and decorative