La Crosse, Wisconsin
Architect: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc.
Owner: Weber Holdings
Contractor: C.D. Smith Construction
Constructed in 1898, this four-story brick building originally housed the Joseph B. Funke candy company and later served as home to a furniture store. When the building went up for sale in 2012, a prominent local businessman and his family purchased the building in order to preserve this downtown historic landmark. The architect was hired to assist with adaptive re-use of the building with the plan to create a luxury boutique hotel. As part of the renovation, the architect assisted the owner with preparation of state and federal Historic Tax Credit applications.
Following a more than $30 million renovation and restoration, this 67-room, five-story property includes an open kitchen restaurant with outdoor sidewalk dining, a 5th-floor roof deck lounge, main lobby bar, as well as lower level space for meetings and corporate gatherings. The restaurant features rustic French influenced cuisine using fresh ingredients sourced from local and regional farmers and purveyors. The name ‘Charmant’ means charming in French and also refers to the name of the premium line of chocolates once sold by Funke Candy. The hotel was named Charmant, as a tribute to the building's candy factory origins to the area's French immigrant heritage.
The Charmant is located near the historic district of downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin, which is one of the largest historic districts in the state. The building itself is oriented along an east-west axis, with the west building façade facing Riverside Park, a city-owned open space and riverwalk situated along a scenic stretch of the Mississippi River.
Renovating a 117-year-old candy factory to meet modern hotel standards while staying within mandated historic guidelines presented significant challenges. A fifth-floor addition - eight rooms, a bar and patio built onto the roof - had to be set back from the edge to preserve the building’s profile from the street. Architectural details of the original building - including exposed dolomite foundations, maple wood flooring, exposed brick, and even the wood ceilings that helped insulate the dipping floor in days before air conditioning - were preserved and reimagined. Some challenges were unexpected. Such as how to get molasses out of the maple floor-boards so they can be reused. Or brick walls that aren’t quite square. “We had to build walls out of square to make them not look out of square,” the project architect noted.
The architects carefully designed a replica of the original rooftop water tower, an idea which came after the owners of the Charmant saw historic pictures. The recreated water tower to celebrates the history of the building while providing a prominent new visual landmark. The architects took extraordinary steps to preserve historic architectural elements -- and incorporate the building’s history into the hotel design. On the wall in a guest room are tins that once held candy from the factory. To qualify for state and federal historic tax credits all design decisions were made in collaboration with, and subject to rigorous review by, state Historic Society and National Park Service experts. “We have to let the building be what it is,” he said.
The Charmant derives its name from the French word for charming - fitting, as this 67-room hotel has an abundance of charm, whimsy, and allure. Great care and attention to detail has been placed in breathing new life into this historic building. It's beautifully well done on every level from the rooms to the restaurant to the exterior. Everything about The Charmant is just right. The subtle, yet fragrant, aroma of molasses and licorice - still present reminders of the human hands that once made candy within the walls of this century old building - permeate the wood flooring. It is a visceral sensory experience.
Photos: The Charmant Hotel