Kathleen Vorgang watched in awe as the stone structure rolled down South Main Street in New Hope. She thought of all the memories — raucous New Year's Eve parties and nights at the piano bar in the 1970s inside the building that was now on wheels in front of her.
"It was the place to be," said Vorgang, 75, of Washington Crossing, as she motioned toward the structure. "This just blows me away."
As hundreds watched, the building that was home to the beloved Chez Odette restaurant made a 1,000-foot move on Wednesday so construction could begin on the Riverhouse at Odette's. The Riverhouse will be the first luxury boutique hotel in New Hope when it opens in early 2020. The Odette's building, meanwhile, will be turned into an "interpretative" public space that teaches New Hope visitors about the history of the Delaware Canal State Park.
Developers and conservationists said they made the rare decision to relocate the structure, instead of knocking it down, in order to preserve the borough's history. Built in 1784 as a stone inn and tavern, the establishment served as a Bucks County landmark, first as the River House and then as Odette's, until it was shuttered in the late 2000s.
Located along the Delaware River, the French bistro attracted diners from near and far with its cabaret and piano bar. The bistro even drew celebrities. The place made national headlines in 1983 when NBC news anchor Jessica Savitch and Martin Fischbein, vice president of the New York Post, died in a car accident after dining there.
Years later, Odette's closed after suffering damage from flooding and storms, and it sat unoccupied and dilapidated.
But developers are finally setting into motion their vision for the parcel on the 200 block of River Road. They plan to start work next month on a luxurious 34-room hotel with a restaurant called Odette's, a rooftop bar, a piano bar, and event space, said Ron Gorodesky, managing director of the project. The price tag is estimated at about $35 million, a cost that includes improvements to aging canals nearby, he said.
"For us, the building move is a lot more than just getting the building off our property to build," he said. "It's about the benefit of having this canal interpretative center at the gateway to New Hope."
The hotel will pay homage to its predecessor, too. Gorodesky said they plan to preserve a 20th-century chandelier, menus, books, and artwork from the old building.
Gorodesky and his team look to past projects, like the Reeds at Shelter Haven in Stone Harbor, N.J., and said they anticipate the Riverhouse filling a similar niche.
New Hope Mayor Larry Keller agreed and said he was glad the borough did not have to choose between Odette's and new development.
"Odette's goes back so far. I can remember in 1970 having dinner there, 48 years ago," Keller said. "The day has come where it's a win-win-win."
The borough was able to preserve the building. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will use it as an educational space in its new location, and developers can build a waterfront resort that will fill a need for more hotel space in a picturesque town already full of restaurants and shops, Keller said.
In early talks, developers, conservationists, and town officials discussed whether to tear down the decaying Odette's or work to restore it. Then, John Norbeck, deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, went on a trip to New York City and saw that Alexander Hamilton's house had been raised over a church and rolled around the corner as part of a renovation.
Back in New Hope, developers agreed that tearing down Odette's would be a "a loss to the community," Norbeck said. So they called in Wolfe House & Building Movers, the same company that moved the Hamilton home.
Wolfe workers moved Odette's with painstaking precision. The structure, which had already been placed on yellow support beams with wheels underneath, was slowly wheeled down the closed borough street. The process took four hours, and at one point required workers to turn more than a dozen sets of wheels one-by-one in order to situate Odette's in its new spot on the corner of Main and New Streets, next to the American Legion building.
"He's a master," Jen Turpin, 64, of Riegelsville, said as she admired the work of the moving crew. "Wow, we'll be able to say we were there when they moved it."
Keith Hoffman, 67, who lives across the river in Lambertville, N.J., said he went to Odette's several times after his family moved to the area in 2000. He was sad to see the restaurant close. On Wednesday, however, he was able to watch the building begin to come alive again.
Around 1 p.m., horns blared on the police cars and fire trucks that had been blocking off the streets. The careful move was complete, and the crowd broke into applause.