Bent’s eyes spring for completion of ambitious construction project in Medina

Photo by Tom Rivers: A painter puts a finishing touch on the top of the Bent's Hall in September. Construction workers have been a steady presence at the site in recent months after taking a hiatus after March due to restrictions with the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 12 January 2021 at 12:51 pm

MEDINA – After a work stoppage of almost six months due to the Covid pandemic, restoration again began in late August/early September on the sandstone building at the four corners of Main Street, known as Bent’s Hall.

Local entrepreneur and Medina native Roger Hungerford purchased the building in 2016, with plans to totally restore it.

It has proven a daunting challenge, much more than Hungerford expected.

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Here is the balcony in this photo taken this week as restoration nears completion.

The building had been given to the Orleans Renaissance Group by Bank of America when they left Medina. ORG had hoped to take over the opera house on the third floor, but found themselves owners of the entire building, which they soon learned was in danger of collapsing into the street. Saving it would require more resources than they possessed. They realized they had to find an investor and Hungerford was contacted.

In an interview almost a year ago, Hungerford said the project turned into an engineering nightmare.

His thoughts were reinforced by project superintendent Charlie Spencer of Clarendon, an employee of LeChase Construction of Rochester, which was given the contract to restore the building.

Spencer called the job the most challenging of his career.

This is the first floor of Bent’s Hall looking toward what will be the Harvest Restaurant during the early stages of the restoration. The stairs were only temporary to access the second floor while work was ongoing.

The wide stairway which led from the second floor when the Eagles Club was there has been closed off half way down, with a landing which leads to the new stairs down to the first floor. The original Douglas fir floors have been completely refinished.

Work was in full progress in March when the pandemic hit and all work came to a halt.

“When Governor Cuomo issued orders that any unnecessary construction had to stop, we already had,” Hungerford said.

Hungerford said they thought there might be a surge in Covid cases, but they never thought it would be as bad as it got.

He said the work remaining to finish the project was going to be a large expense, and if they had continued to work, there would be no way to immediately use the building and start recouping his costs.

This photo of one of the boxes in Bent’s Hall opera house was provided by Orleans Renaissance Group several years ago. ORG got the restoration of the building started when it was given to them by Bank of America. They soon realized restoration was more than they could handle and sought a buyer, local entrepreneur Roger Hungerford, who is credited with saving the building from ruin.

This is what the boxes look like today in the opera house. This section of the wall is the first to be painted.

In the meantime, two chefs hired by Hungerford to operate the Harvest Restaurant on the main floor of Bent’s, Lionel Heydel and Jose Ocasio, remained on the payroll, working to develop menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Heydel said the restaurant will make a comeback.

Hungerford was hoping work could be completed enough so the Harvest Restaurant could open this month, followed by the 10 unique hotel rooms on the second floor by the end of February or end of March. He was then hopeful the third floor opera house could be completed by the end of April and they could start booking events for fall. But, with the increase in Covid cases, that is no longer a reality.

He is optimistic about the vaccines which have been developed and said they are an amazing medical breakthrough and a great achievement.

Ten themed hotel rooms will occupy the second floor of Bent’s Hall. Some of the rooms lead off this hallway, which ends at the stairs to the third-floor Bent’s Opera House.

This is the same hallway before restoration began, when the opera ticket window was located near the stairs.

With the 30 workmen able to return, finishing work has been progressing nicely, Spencer said.

“We are happy to be back to work, and everything is going pretty well,” he said.

The original floors in the building are all Douglas fir and have been refinished, and all the window casings are either restored or replaced with historic replicas, Spencer said.

Hungerford said all doors and windows have been replaced or renovated, and the pediment on top of the building is complete.

Kitchen equipment is all lined up ready to be installed in the Harvest Restaurant which will be a highlight when Bent’s Hall is ready to open.

Hungerford founded a company he called Talis Historic Restoration to undertake restoration projects. The company will also be continuing work on Stonehurst Mansion on West Center Street and the former Medina High School, which Hungerford has named Mustang City and plans to turn into high-end loft apartments. He said Talis Historic Restoration started with 10 employees and he foresees it growing to as many as 100 when more historic restoration projects begin across the country.

Spencer said while the work is still challenging, the end is in sight. Work now mostly consists of finishing wood trim, painting and installing electrical outlets, lights and kitchen equipment in the restaurant. He anticipates they could complete the work by late spring.

The restaurant will not only have a sizable dining room, but a bar and private dining room with windows into the kitchen. The vault used by the bank will be left as a historic attraction, Spencer said.

Opening the restaurant got support from the village with the recent approval to cut out a section of curb in front where cars/limousines can pull up and drop off diners.

Bent’s Hall on the corner of Main Street and West Center Street is resplendent as restoration work nears completion. The building sports new or restored windows, a striking pediment and repointed sandstone.

Mark Hungerford, left, and Nate Fisher work on the door to the former bank vault, which will be left in the Harvest Restaurant as an attraction.