A dried out Latchis Hotel and Theater will reopen

Tuesday September 20, 2011

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories about landmarks damaged or lost from the flooding brought on by Tropical Storm Irene on Aug. 28.

BRATTLEBORO -- There's an eerie quietness. An unnatural, unseasonable stillness fills the empty halls and rooms of the Latchis Hotel and Theater, but it's not going to stop people from getting them both open as soon as possible.

"We'll be open again well before November," said Gail Nunziata, general manager of the Latchis.

On a rainy Sunday morning in late August, most of the rooms in the Latchis Hotel were filled with guests and many of the staff members were cleaning up after breakfast.

Nunziata said the morning was fairly typical and that they had prepared for the tropical storm that was due to hit the area, but she had no idea the day would turn out like it did.

"It was just sad to be so helpless and have to watch the water rage, knowing you can't assess anything until the water recedes," she said. "Flat Street was wall-to-wall water. The basement level windows were the perfect place for water to seep into the building."

Historic rainfall, caused by Tropical Storm Irene, filled the Whetstone Brook and transformed it from a small waterway to a raging source of destruction.

The brook, which runs behind the Latchis Memorial Building, flowed up and over its natural banks, flooding the parking lot of the theater and hotel as well as most of Flat Street with inches of mucky water.

All of the guests needed to be evacuated, and without the use of an elevator the job became increasingly harder, she said.

Hundreds of gallons of debris-ridden water filled the basement of the building, submerging three different rooms which housed the electrical panels, elevator panels, the hot water heater and furnace.

"We thought we were going to be OK because the lights were on, then they weren't and we knew it wasn't just a problem with CVPS," Nunziata said. "You can't believe how much water there was."

Water only reached the floor of the third row of seats so none of them will need to be replaced immediately, Nunziata said. Most of the damage was to the carpet and all of it was pulled up and removed, she said.

Without electricity and heat, the hotel and movie theaters have been inoperable and the financial stress can be nerve-racking, Nunziata said. All of the construction, rebuilding and rewiring is being done on emergency power, she said, and the goal is to have the hotel and theater up and running again well before November.

"Losing all of September and now a portion of October is tough because it's leaf season," Nunziata said. "It really hurts to lose that much business."

Built in 1938 by the Latchis family as a testament to the life and work of Demetrius P. Latchis, the building was billed as "a town within a town -- all under one roof" because of the multiple shops contained within.

In March 2003, the Brattleboro Arts Initiative, in partnership with the Preservation Trust of Vermont, purchased the Latchis Memorial Building which included the four screen Latchis Theater, the 60-room hotel, a ballroom and various other businesses.

Structurally the building is sound and won't require any engineering, Nunziata said.

She said the tireless efforts of employees have been amazing in getting the hotel and movie theater back up and running. She specifically mentioned Mike DeMatteis, a janitor who never seemed to stop cleaning and making the place look as beautiful as possible, and Peter Wilson, a maintenance assistance who served as a guide for all the volunteers and work crews.

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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