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Lenox Hotel being renovated, and its restaurant reopened

The historic Lenox Hotel on North Street in Allentown is getting a dose of modernization.

The 1896 vintage landmark is in the midst of an interior renovation that will bring updates to all of its 156 hotel rooms and apartments, and see a new restaurant debut next month.

"It's a solid building. Everything is plumb and level, but it really needed a makeover," said Anthony F. Trusso, who purchased the venerable building in August 2005. "There's a lot of work to do, but we're going one step at a time and seeing great results."

He declined to say how much he's investing to put a fresh face on the once-grand Buffalo hotel, but characterized the costs as "pretty substantial."

Since buying the Lenox seven months ago from a California-based investment firm for $2.4 million, Trusso has renovated about 30 of what will eventually be a slate of 116 apartments.

"We're renting them faster than we can redo them and it's all been by word of mouth," Trusso said.

The apartment upgrades include everything from kitchen cabinets to ceramic tile to fresh coats of paint. The collection of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments are priced starting at $425 per month, including a utility package the includes basic cable television service.

"There are a lot of units on the market downtown at $1,400 or more a month, so we're offering a well-priced alternative at a great location," Trusso said.

The new owner has also begun to overhaul the building's 40 faded hotel rooms. Planned exterior work includes: brick repointing, trim repair, and window and parking lot improvements.

Trusso's longer-term plans are to create a roof-top patio lounge area for tenants and hotel guests in 2007.

"The views from the top of this building are really wonderful, so we'd like to have our tenants take advantage of that," Trusso said.

For decades, the hotel's eighth-floor Skyview Room dining room drew patrons as much for the spectacular views as the top-shelf menus.

These days the food focus at the Lenox is in the basement space that was most recently home to Leopold's eatery. Billy Regan and Kim Rossi, owners of the nearby Mulligan's Brick Bar on Allen Street, will open North, a pub-style, casual restaurant next month.

North will serve up lunches and dinners Monday through Saturday, and add brunch to the menu for Sunday. Dining options will range from homemade soups, salads and sandwiches, along with traditional meat, poultry and seafood dishes in the evening.

Designed by Loverin & Whalen, the exterior of the Gilded Age-era building still retains its key original features, including distinctive bay windows trimmed with terra cotta relief, along with decorative cornices and rounded window arches.

Originally built as a 24-unit apartment building which housed families whose names graced the local social register -- including a young F. Scott Fitzgerald -- it was converted to a 48-room, luxury residence hotel in time for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition.

In the 1940s, it was reconfigured yet again to more than 150 hotel rooms, many with kitchenettes for extended-stay guests.

Over the years its guest register included Aaron Copland, Henry Fonda, Duke Ellington and Harry Belafonte.

The once-grand complex fell on difficult times in the 1990s and landed in foreclosure proceedings in 2002. Many of its rooms have sat empty for several years as its former owner, Blackburne and Brown, weighed a never-executed plan to convert it to high-end condominiums.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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