End of an era: Clermont Hotel closes

Editor's note: Atlanta's famed, if not notorious, Clermont Hotel closed its doors on Dec. 31, 2009. Here is a story from the day of the closing plus some helpful links about the hotel and its neighbors.

She won't miss the roaches.

But Donna Henley, one of the last 22 residents who were living at the Clermont Hotel, was sad to see the Atlanta icon close Thursday. Inspectors cited mold, bugs, water problems, damaged floors and ceilings, and other health hazards at the 85-year-old building.

"We were joking -- they just now decided to close it down?" said Henley, 48, a four-year resident who works next door as a waitress at Dugan's sports bar. "But it's sad. I didn't know everyone who lived here, but there were a lot of people who were here for a while. They were our neighbors."

Former manager Bill Clark locked the front door just before noon, signaling everyone had moved out.

Henley's brother and friend loaded up her belongings for the short ride to her brother's home, where she'll stay temporarily.

Lillian Gaynor, 59, said goodbye after seven years at the hotel. She also worked there as a clerk.

"I didn't want to leave," she said. "I thought maybe I had a few more years to work here, and I was going to retire at 62, so that's kind of disappointing to me," said Gaynor, who is moving in with relatives in North Carolina. "There were some problems, but to me it was very convenient."

Fulton County Health and Human Services offered residents 30-day vouchers for the Castleberry Inn. Department officials said they'll keep working with residents to make sure they have a place to live beyond next month.

Despite the closing, the basement Clermont Lounge  -- famed for its aging strippers and dive-bar scene -- remains open. It is inspected twice a year, said Kevin Jones, environmental health manager for the county Department of Health and Wellness.

"Right now it's in compliance," Jones said. "The hotel was not."

The lounge will stay open indefinitely, said Matt Shulman of Fairway Capital Partners, which foreclosed on the property recently.

Meanwhile, Fairway has hired a real estate services company to market the property and solicit joint-venture ideas. Fairway also aims to get the Clermont designated a historic landmark.

Eventually, it could reopen as a hotel.

"Before we would allow it to open back up, they would have to submit plans for a complete renovation of that building," Jones said.

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