- Helen Anders American-Statesman Staff
Mansion on Judge’s Hill is about to close for a month or so to undergo a renovation and rebranding that will renovate the rooms, add a pool and integrate the public and outdoor spaces.
The prime directive for all this has been one simple question: What would Ella do?
Ella and Goodall Wooten got the house as a wedding present from his father after it was built in 1898, and Ella Wooten, known for her impeccable taste and hospitality, turned it into the Greek Revival beauty that stands at Rio Grande Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard today.
She told her husband she’d rather have columns on her house than a trip around the world (and wound up getting both), and she enlisted Neiman Marcus to help create her dream home. She knew what she wanted, and she made it happen.
Hence, she’s the inspiration — and the name. Mansion on Judge’s Hill is scheduled to close June 3 and reopen in July as Hotel Ella. The property is being reconceived as a high-end boutique hotel rather than a bed-and-breakfast, and it will become the only Texas member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
A group of investors led by Austinite Stuart McManus bought the mansion last year, bringing in Steve Shotsberger as general manager. Both men have a lot of experience with historic, luxury boutique properties such as Aspen’s Hotel Jerome. That’s the direction they want to take Hotel Ella, “continuing her vision,” Shotsberger says of the original mistress of the house. At the architectural helms is Michael Hsu (Uchi, La Condesa, Zach Theatre), with Donna Stockton-Hicks designing the rooms.
“I’ve admired this building for years,” Hsu says of the original mansion. “My wife’s parents stay here. We want to bring it closer to what it was. We’re looking at what we can take away and what we can add that’s very clean and modern.”
There are two parts to the hotel: the original house, with 10 large rooms, and the 1980s annex, with 38. They look like two different properties now, but Hsu plans to bring them together, adding a sleek pool to the courtyard and creating a convivial area where guests can order food and drink. The annex building will get a new blue-gray coat of paint, and wrought-iron, New Orleans-style balustrades will come down. Small outdoor sitting areas with vine-covered walls will bring ground-floor annex rooms out into the courtyard.
Hsu is bringing the check-in area — now in the annex — back to the main house entry, which will get a bright, new blue-gray color scheme. The parlors will get lighter paint and new light fixtures and furniture. A wall will be knocked down to enlarge the dining room and connect it to the new outdoor courtyard.
The room makeovers preserve their historic look with new furnishings, top-quality linens, flat-screen TVs, and lighter drapes and paint for a larger, more open feel.
Five bedrooms on the second floor of the original house get the most significant change, becoming petite suites with new Carrara marble bathrooms stocked with signature bath products. The upstairs veranda will be redecorated as a private retreat for those staying in those rooms. The rest of the rooms are also getting a face-lift, with lighter colors, new furnishings, top-quality linens, flat-screen TVs and an infusion of elegant new light fixtures.
One of the most exciting parts of the renovation, from a local’s perspective, involves the veranda and beautifully landscaped grounds, which will become part of the living area, with a new fire pit and seating on the lawn. Cocktails and food will be served on the veranda, which already has new furniture. A circular driveway will make valet parking a snap for both guests and locals swinging by for dinner or a glass of wine and a nosh.
The food will change, too. New chef Scott Mechura from Montana and food and beverage manager Joannes Lehberger from Telluride promise a locally driven but creative (Mechura loves Asian and Mediterranean flavors), seasonal menu. Mechura calls his concept “sub-urban.”
“You’re staying in the heart of the city but also in the backyard of Texas, with one foot in each,” he says, describing a style that would seem to blend nicely with the concept of the new Hotel Ella.