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Visiting Lexington and the Rockbridge Area, 2017

6

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

downtown area.

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

bathrooms required

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

hotel rooms.

As much as

possible, original ar-

chitectural details

have been kept. The

original 1928 elevator

cars, with completely

updated mechanical

and electrical systems,

have been used. Arch-

ways and decorative