One of the oldest buildings in Charlotte Amalie sustained major damage in the hurricanes of 2017. But plans to repair and restore the building are coming together, according to Norman Miller, construction manager for the Vernon A. Ball Irrevocable Trust.
Landscaping crews have begun work on the Hotel 1829, a prominent building on Government Hill, more formally known as Kongens Gade 30. The historic building was originally built as a home for the French sea captain and successful St. Thomas merchant, Alexander Lavalette. It was used as a private residence until 1900, when it was converted to a hotel.
In 1967, Vernon Ball purchased the property. He accumulated eight historic properties in the Kongens historic district of Charlotte Amalie, including Estate Skystborg (Blackbeard’s Castle,) Bank House, and the Magens-Pederson Estate. Ball operated an historic walking tour that visited his properties. Ball passed away in April 2017.
Currently, the Vernon A. Ball Irrevocable Trust owns the properties. Two trustees, Michael Ball, Vernon’s son, and Bob Picchi, a friend of Vernon’s from North Carolina, have hired Norman Miller, an experienced construction professional from North Carolina, to assess the damage and manage the repairs. Miller has relocated to St. Thomas to work on the project. He hired Advantage Trucking to clear the grounds, and that phase is underway, clearing debris blown down by the hurricanes. The next phase will rejuvenate and then maintain the garden that used to surround the building.
According to Miller, plans are being submitted to St. Thomas Historical Preservation Office, a division of the Department of Parks and Natural Resources, to restore the building to its original design with a flat roof. Miller said Advanced Roofing, the firm that repaired the St. Thomas Post Office roof, has been retained to construct the proposed flat roof.
Originally the house was two stories, and was constructed of rubble masonry covered with plaster. A third story was built with a pitched roof above the original flat roof, and this pitch roof sustained major damage in the recent storms. However, most of the lower floors withstood the wind and rain that damaged the top floor. Many rooms are pristine and look ready to welcome visitors.
The strong masonry of the Hotel 1829 is typical of many historic buildings on St. Thomas, and is famous for its strength and uses a mixture of crushed coral, shells, and European bricks. The Hotel 1829 also includes many distinctive features. A central Spanish-style courtyard is paved with Moroccan tiles, and opposing spiral staircases now frame the largest amber waterfall in the world, which was added in 2008. The waterfall, now dry, contains more than 12,000 amber stones collected from the Caribbean and around the world.
The graceful architecture recalls the success merchants created on St. Thomas in the 19th Century, and the structure is adorned with wrought iron gates and railings. The historic walking tour created by Ball was a popular attraction on the island. Visitors continue to follow the route, which includes the famous “99 Steps,” found just to the right of the Hotel 1829, even with the buildings closed to the public.
In 2015, 20 Ball properties, including the Hotel 1829, were listed for sale. The asking price for the accumulated properties is $18 million. Celia Hodge, administrative manager for the Ball Trust, verified William Otto of David Jones Real Estate as the listing agent, and he did not reply to inquiries. Miller said the trustees will continue the repairs and work through the permitting process for reconstruction “unless someone buys the building as is.”