Although it has been a place where thousands of Quad-Citians have enjoyed wine and spirits at weddings and other jubilant events, after Saturday, you’ll have to be sober to spend a night in The Abbey Hotel.
Saturday is the last day The Abbey will operate as a hotel. Beginning Oct. 6, the historic structure will be home to an addiction treatment center, where treatment will run $20,000 per month for clients.
News of the change does not always go over well with longtime customers calling to make reservations, owner Joe Lemmon Jr. said. But they usually come around when he explains why he decided to make the switch.
“Sometimes when people call for a reservation and I say I can’t accommodate them, they feel dejected,” Lemmon said. “But then I tell them (addiction) is a big problem in our country. I spoke to a woman the other day who, after I talked to her, told me her niece has a problem and wanted to know how she could get her in here.”
Another regular customer expressed surprise but satisfaction upon learning the hotel soon will be a rehabilitation center. “He said, ‘You know, Joe, I’ve been sober for 25 years.’ ”
Aside from one very important task, little needs to be done to the four-star hotel to transform it into its new use, Lemmon said. “We need to strip the bar of all indicia of alcohol.”
Aside from that, large banquet rooms will be made more intimate using Chinese screens. The Abbey will have only three to six clients at a time in the beginning, Lemmon said. Stays will range from 30 to 90 days.
And, no, pop music diva Britney Spears, who has had several well-publicized stays in rehabilitation centers, will not be one of them.
“I get that question a lot,” Lemmon said. “Celebrities have kind of made (recovery) a combination of vogue and sensational. They draw attention to the problem, but trivialize it.”
On Thursday, Lemmon visited with a handful of Abbey guests over breakfast. All were first-time visitors. He said occupancy at the 19-room inn has been running about 50 percent in recent weeks, but there likely will not be any vacancy tonight or Saturday. “Those wanting to make reservations can call us and check.”
Kathryn and Don Brush of Urbandale said they chose to stay at the Abbey because of its historical significance. “I’m Catholic, and I relate to it because of the Carmelites,” Kathryn Brush said, referring to the Carmelite Sisters who originally inhabited the building.
The Brushes were pleased when Lemmon told them about a room upstairs that is a replica of the tiny cells where the sisters lived, complete with furnishings from that era. They planned to check it out later in the day. That room will remain when the treatment center opens.
“This is a great place for rehab,” Kathryn Brush said. “It’s so serene. I could see how a person could heal here.”
Lemmon agreed. “We’ll be the only treatment center in America with a chapel.”
The Brushes also asked Lemmon if he had begun to hire staff for the treatment center, which he has. “We’ve been flooded with applications,” Lemmon said. “I ask them why they didn’t apply to the hotel, and they say, ‘I’m not interested in the hotel, I’m interested in this.’ ”
Lemmon and Mike Shovlain, who will serve as the center’s executive director, already have hired a staff psychologist and several people with master’s degrees. “These people are mission-driven,” Lemmon said. “They chose this field because they’re interested in it.”
The guests were curious why Lemmon was making the change from a hotel to a treatment center. He explained that he has not been able to compete with the nearby Isle of Capri, which has a combined 514 rooms that sometimes are offered at free or reduced rates to people who gamble there.
Lemmon said he hopes local people will support The Abbey in its new endeavor, especially since it’s part of the Quad-Cities’ heritage. “Our heritage is fast becoming Applebee’s and Friday’s,” Lemmon said. “We hope people will spread the word that we’re here. We’re only going to be successful with the community’s help.”
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In the meantime, Lemmon said he does not plan to change the hotel’s sign. Clients don’t have to be reminded that they’re in rehab, he said. “They can tell people on the phone, ‘Hey, I’m at The Abbey Hotel,’ and not have to sing it to the whole world.”
David Heitz can be contacted at
ABOUT THE ABBEY HOTEL
ORIGINAL PURPOSE: The Abbey was built in 1915 as a monastery for the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, usually referred to as the “Carmelite Sisters.” The monastery was built to accommodate 21 sisters, plus additional rooms for beginners.
Once a young woman entered the monastery, she was never to leave. The sisters were not allowed to see an outsider’s face except through a metal screen covered by a black cloth. The sisters bathed in their rooms, also known as “cells” with a pitcher and bowl. They were not allowed to wear shoes.
Originally, the monastery had 116 rooms. The sisters lived in very tiny cells about 8 feet by 9 feet.
ARCHITECTURE: The monastery is a Romanesque structure of gold-mottled brick with cream-white Bedford stone trimmings.
WHEN THE SISTERS LEFT: The sisters moved to Eldridge, Iowa, in 1975 because the building had become too large for them. The monastery was taken over by the Franciscan Brothers of Christ the King in 1978. The brothers turned the monastery into a retreat house and invited the public in for banquets and tours. They later sold it to the Lemon family of Sausalito, Calif., who opened The Abbey Hotel in 1993.