- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

COVINGTON, La. (AP) - The historic appeal of this St. Tammany Parish city should get a boost later this spring with the reopening of the Southern Hotel, a century-old building that’s been empty for years but recalls Covington’s days as a vacation destination.

The New Orleans Advocate reported (http://bit.ly/1qX116J) the hotel is set to reopen June 1 after a $9 million renovation.

Mayor Mike Cooper said the 42-room hotel is sorely needed. Covington has only a few bed-and-breakfasts, and when those are full, visitors must stay at hotels along Interstate 12 or strip-mall-lined U.S. Highway 190.

The Mission-style hotel at Boston and New Hampshire streets first opened in 1907. Covington’s piney air and springs were thought to have restorative properties, and the town counted on a stream of visitors from Lake Pontchartrain’s south shore.

Just five years after it opened, the hotel was bought by a physician, who turned it into a place to treat people with respiratory illnesses. Over most of the next five decades, the hotel continued to host overnight guests.

The hotel “is Covington,” said City Councilman Lee Alexius

One of the most colorful and oft-repeated bits of Southern Hotel lore - that Gov. Earl Long stayed at the hotel during a 1959 court hearing to determine whether he was sane - is, unfortunately, bogus.

The hearing took place across the street in what was then the courthouse, but apparently Long never stayed a night in the Southern Hotel.

“I wish it was true,” co-owner Lisa Condrey Ward said with a laugh.

By the 1960s, overnight guests were no longer being booked at the hotel, and the façade was altered to make room for the drugstore. There also was a bar called Tugy’s, recalled fondly by Cooper and Alexius.

In the 1980s, the building was bought by the parish and was used as a courthouse and offices. In 2003, with the completion of a new justice center a few blocks away, the property was declared surplus and was sold at auction.

It was vacant for years, then went on the market in 2011.

It was then that Ward, her husband, Joseph and other relatives bought it for $1.75 million and immediately planned to turn it into a hotel.

They’ve invested about $9 million into renovating the building to give it a historical feel, Lisa Condrey Ward said.

The hotel’s centerpiece will be its fountained courtyard, which will open on two sides to the hotel’s sun room and ballroom.

A restaurant - called Ox-Lot 9 - is expected to open in July. Chef Jeffrey Hansell, who worked at Commander’s Palace and was most recently at the Veranda on Highland restaurant in Birmingham, Ala., will run the kitchen.

The hotel’s first major event is a wedding booked for June 14. Ward said much The hotel will host its first major event, a wedding, on June 14, Ward said, and much work must be completed before then.

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Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com

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