A second try for a third new life for the historic Cora J. Pope Home is on the Ottawa City Council’s Tuesday meeting agenda.
Potential buyers are seeking permission to convert the grand 18-room South Side house at 116 W. Prospect Ave. that overlooks the Illinois River into a plush bed and breakfast.
The Plan Commission unanimously recommended approval of the request last Monday after praising the plan.
“The proposal is sound,” said Plan Commission Chairman Brent Barron.
There would be little change on the outside. A carriage porch would be re-created, peony bushes relocated and other landscaping installed. There also would be 10 off-street parking spaces created: six by the west property line and four on the north side — one of which would be designated for handicapped use.
The inside, however, would be extensively remodeled with plaster repairs, new paint, attention to the vintage woodwork and the installation of central air-conditioning. Previously room air conditioners had been used.
The proposed accommodations would be five single rooms or two-room suites with Victorian furniture. Some of the rooms would have private bathrooms, while others would use shared bathrooms, a common arrangement in B&Bs. There might also be a spa room. A continental breakfast would be served to guests.
Originally, the mansion was the home of well-to-do — but childless — Milton and Cora Pope.
In 1942 when Cora, then a widow, died, the house was converted as her will provided into a residence with a Christian atmosphere for older women who could live independently. Opening in 1945, the home could accommodate 11 ladies.
But by 2013 the home had outlived its purpose. Despite attempts to attract new residents, there was only one woman left and the home was closed.
While the owner of the home is the Synod of Lincoln Trials of the Presbyterian Church, its agent is the local Cora J. Pope Home Trust Board.
At the board’s request, its attorney, James Keely, went to court and asked Circuit Judge Joseph P. Hettel to modify the trust to permit the sale of the home with the proceeds going to help elderly people of limited means continue to live in their own homes. Hettel granted that request.
The house was listed for sale and the trust board considered a number of purchase offers.
Monday, Keely told the Ottawa Plan Commission the board selected the proposal to turn the house into a bed and breakfast establishment.
The proposal was by friends Elin Arnold-Mitchell and her husband Larry Mitchell, and Arnold-Mitchell’s friend Ottawa veterinarian Dr. Patricia Hoagland and her husband John Hoagland.
“We’ve been friends for over 20 years,” Arnold-Mitchell told the plan commission members. “That’s how I got into this. She thought it was a good idea.
“Our idea is to bring this home back to the original magnificence,” she explained.
Arnold-Mitchell said the partnership was committed to strict observance of all city ordinances.
“I know there’s been problems in the city of Ottawa with bed and breakfasts — but we are not going to be one of them,” she said.
The B&B proposal dates back to September of 2016. Most of 2017 was spent by the plan commission crafting an ordinance so large mansions could be designated as an inn so more of its rooms could be used than the limit of five set by Ottawa ordinance.
Ultimately, the City Council passed the inn ordinance, but excluded residential property like the Cora Pope home.
Neighbor Larry Goode, who lives across the street from the Pope home, and Rich and Kyla Mennecke, who live next door to the west in the landmark John Hossack House, were present to support the B&B request.
“There aren’t too many options left for this property on what can happen to it,” Mennecke said. “I see a sad future for it if it doesn’t go to this.”