Local architect lends vision and ideas to landmark's restoration
08/30/2016 01:45PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
The first time Ed Rahme of THINK Architecture walked into the historic Octoraro Hotel and Tavern in Oxford after the tragic fire it suffered in November of 2014, he uttered a few words that accurately described his shock and dismay at what he saw, none of which are printable in this newspaper.
On Nov. 4, 2014, a fire ripped through the 187-year-old building, severely damaging the first floor restaurant and leaving eleven adults and one child without a place to sleep. Thirty-one employees were also left without work as a result of the blaze, which fortunately did not hurt anyone.
Soon after, Rahme joined co-owners Brannon Seamon and John McGlothlin on a walk-through of the charred remains of what had begun as a 2013 acquisition and flourished over the next 18 months to become one of the social centerpieces of Oxford.
“[Brannan and John] bought the building, they were in business for a year-and-a-half, and business was going great,” Rahme said. “They were both tremendously excited, but as I walked through the burned-out building, I watched the looks on their faces, and it was like, 'How could this possibly happen? They went from high-high to absolute bottom.'
“I don't do a lot of work resulting from catastrophy. Most of my work is in the form of renovations and new buildings, but in this case, being there was like performing triage. The challeng was to find out how we could get that tavern back up and running again, as quickly as possible.”
Soon after Seaman and McGlothlin began discussions with Rahme in January 2015, the key goals of the recovery were to restore the tavern back to its former configuration and design; convert the third floor from what had once been eight hotel rooms into three one-bedroom apartments; and renovate the second floor in order to make it a rentable banquet space, complete with a bar and restrooms.
In addition, the new building will have an upgraded HVAC system, a new rear entrance to the tavern, and brand new flooring throughout the building.
“One of the things I enjoy about working with Brannan and John is that they are very concerned with longevity,” Rahme said. “They're not the kind of people who believe in just patching up and moving on. I've heard 'Let's do this right' umpteen times through this process.
“Their perseverance has been incredible. They have been pushing so hard to do things right. The original game plan was to patch up a few things, get the tavern back running, renovate the upper levels to make them apartments and banquet halls, and what we ended up doing was ripping out all of the floors in order to rebuild them, and replacing the roof structure.”
The restoration of the landmark facility has been replete with challenges.
“The Octoraro Hotel is a very old building, and building practices back then were not always well monitored, and building and safety codes were not as sophisticated as they are today,” Rahme said. “Much like in the case of renovating an old building or a home, when you open up one wall, you find three more projects.”
There is nothing in a restaurant owners' handbook that demands that he or she also has to be a whiz when it comes to the architectural details of their establishment, especially in the aftermath of a huge fire. For McGlothlin and Seaman, Rahme has served as a conduit between the building's re-opening and what needs to be done in order to get there.
“One of the things I enjoy about working with Ed is that we're dealing with something we've never had to deal with before, especially of this magnitude, given the money we're putting into it,” McGlothlin aid. “I am at ease every time I get off the phone with Ed. I always feel much better after our conversations. I have great respect for his attitude, his kindness, and the way he breaks it down for someone like me, in words I can understand. At every stage of our rebirth, he's walks us through the process.”
McGlothlin and Seamon have received support from the community after the fire. Residents contributed money, and several organizations including Oxford Main Street Inc. (OMI) and the Oxford Arts Alliance held fundraisers. The Oxford community's response to this adversity was immediate and strong: As soon as word about the fire spread, an online campaign to raise money for those affected was launched through youcaring.com. Kennett Area Community Services, the Oxford Neighborhood Services Center, and SILO (Serving Inspiring Loving Others) helped find temporary housing for those displaced by the fire.
In the beginning of the restoration, Rahme visited the site two or three times a week, but now that the construction is fully underway and the building has passed inspection and building codes, he now serves as a consultant, helping to answer contractors' questions, and suggesting cost-effective and long-term solutions.
McGlothlin said that the newly-restored tavern has an anticipated re-opening of Nov. 18, and credited Rahme for being one of the principal forces that will make a re-opening possible.
“With every stage and every facet of our restoration, he gives us time lines and tells us about every process, and the design has been amazing,” he said. “We are very blessed to have Ed with us.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.