LENOXINN

The inn at 16 Church St. in Lenox was built as a stagecoach stopover in 1771 and is the town’s oldest building. It is expected to open in May as the Church Street Inn and will be operated by New York-based Life Hospitality under its Life House brand.

LENOX — The historic Church Street Inn has been sold to a new owner for the second time in less than two years.

The $2.6 million real estate transaction price recorded at the Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds last week appears to be the highest for a downtown inn since the Gateways Inn was bought by entrepreneur Eiran Gazit in 2012 for $2,250,000.

The 32-room site at 16 Church St. — it formerly was known as the Village Inn — was built as a stagecoach stopover in 1771 and is the town’s oldest building.

In June 2019, it was acquired for $850,000 by Managing Partner Chris Frevert of Citadel Advisory Group Investment Bankers in Fort Collins, Colo.

The property underwent extensive interior and exterior renovations during Citadel’s brief ownership, according to Frevert.

The town’s assessed value for the building, before the renovation project, is $1,256,000.

The purchaser is a Massachusetts corporation formed Jan. 29, Lenox Collection LLC, based in Brookline. Its members include Russell Lange and Seth Johnson, represented by attorney Ethan Klepetar of Hellman Shearn & Arienti in Great Barrington.

Johnson said the company was formed specifically to acquire the inn.

“We both grew up in the Northeast and we’ve been coming out to the Berkshires and had a passion for it,” he said. After seeing the inn, they contacted Frevert and an agreement was reached.

One longtime locally prominent Realtor expressed surprise over the transaction price, adding that the deal was completed under the radar, since the property had not been listed on the market.

“The plan was always to hold and operate the property indefinitely,” Frevert said. But, he pointed out, “the COVID pandemic, and the uncertain business environment surrounding it, certainly had an impact on our timing.”

Frevert said improvements included roof replacement, kitchen upgrades, exterior repainting and a full interior revamp, including electrical and plumbing upgrades, along with life safety systems and ADA compliance.

The last phase of the project included new carpeting, paint, wallpaper and new furnishings in each room.

The property was not actively on the market, Frevert said, since the plan was to hold it.

“But we were approached about a potential sale and we were able to reach an agreement on valuation that made sense to us as investors,” he said.

Johnson emphasized that the inn will maintain its tradition of service and hospitality in downtown Lenox when it reopens in less than six weeks. The 60-seat restaurant that had been operated in the past also will reopen, although the concept and the name for it are still under discussion.

The Church Street Inn will be operated by New York-based Life Hospitality under its Life House brand, Johnson said. The independent hotel management firm also runs Wheatleigh in Stockbridge and several properties on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard as well as in the Miami area. It’s also the proposed operator of Days Inn on Pittsfield Road in Lenox, where a change of ownership is pending.

At the Church Street Inn, according to the inn’s website, bookings for rooms are being taken as of May 1 starting at $129 per night, rising to $269 per night with a two-night weekend minimum beginning June 11.

Under its previous ownership by Billy and Pat Soto’s Bennington Bear Inc., the inn had a 60-seat restaurant known as Rumplestiltzkin’s — it was named for the fairy tale character — a basement pub, Rumpy’s, and a private 35-car parking lot.

The Sotos had purchased the inn for $2.1 million in 2004. They put it on the market in April 2015, with an initial asking price of $1.3 million or the best offer.

After two years with no takers, an auction for the 19,500-square-foot property was held in mid-June 2017, but it did not attract any buyers after the bidding opened at $600,000. At the time, Billy Soto acknowledged that since the inn needed “tender loving care, we have to find someone who thinks this place is worth it.”

Frevert formed Church Street Inn LLC with his wife, Dawn, and two friends, Chris and Jane Serafin, when they bought it in June 2019. He told The Eagle then that the group had searched for an intimate property from Cape Cod to the White Mountains.

After a potential purchase in New Hampshire fell through, Frevert said, “we picked up the search again and came across the Village Inn. One visit to Lenox and we were sold.”

His renovation plan included new roofing, painting and landscaping, and interior upgrades such as new paint, carpet, wallpaper and lighting, as well as new furniture in the common areas and guest rooms.

“We’re excited to be a part of the Lenox business community and hope to give our guests a reason to come back to the town year after year,” Frevert said.

According to a Lenox Historical Commission survey for the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the inn and tavern were opened by early settler John Whitlock in a home he built in 1771, providing lodging and victuals for weary travelers on the Boston-to-Albany, N.Y., stagecoach route.

Known then as the John Whitlock House, the Colonial Revival-style building that began as a simple two-room farmhouse has been altered significantly and enlarged many times, notably “the late-Victorian renovations that are the most clearly visible elements of the structure,” the survey stated.

Whitlock’s farmlands occupied much of what became Lenox Village, the commission’s report noted.

“In the late 1770s, Whitlock opened his home as an inn following the pattern of many Berkshire householders who supplemented their farming income by providing lodging for stagecoach travelers,” the commission wrote.

By 1800, Whitlock sold off the farmland for what became Church Street, which was purchased by the town in 1815. The house and lot were sold for $105 in 1821 to Lemuel Parsons, a wagon-maker who used it as a private home. Other individual homeowners followed.

The Graham Root Inn, better known as The Grey House, opened in 1890, after the building was enlarged by attaching two barns.

Subsequent owners include Mrs. E. Spenser, who purchased the site in 1904, followed by the estate of Josephine Farnham; Cameron Marshall; the George Bull family and, in 1970, Richard and Marie Judd, who began operating it as the Village Inn.

Clifford Rudisill and Ray Wilson owned it from 1981 to 2004, when it was sold to the Sotos.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter

@BEcfanto or at 413-637-2551.