Do not disturb -- please! 

How long can the Clermont Hotel hold back the flood of developers and gentrifiers? A CL reporter checks in for a week to get an inside look -- before it's too late.

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He retired from Sysco foods last July, but hasn't made good yet on a pledge to himself to spend his golden years somewhere other than the fifth floor of the Clermont.

"I'm almost ashamed to say how long I've been here," he admits, but then does say: 15 years. He can think of only one other resident who's been here longer. Before that, he spent 10 years at the Ponce de Leon Hotel, until it began a downhill slide in the late '80s.

That hotel has since been refurbished and Hollis believes the Clermont would likewise benefit from replacing the torn, stained carpeting that predates his arrival, freshening up the ancient paint and repairing some aging fixtures.

"It's a beautiful building but, if it were up to me, I'd at least fix it up one room at a time," he says.

Hollis says he's made a couple of acquaintances on his hall, but mostly keeps to the efficiency he shares with his "lady friend"; he no longer bothers trying to cultivate friendships among the secretive owners and staff.

"I'm not trying to be anti-social, but I'm not sure the people here are folks I want in my business," he explains.

When he moved in, Hollis chose the Clermont for its convenient location along major bus routes and within easy walking distance of supermarkets, restaurants, pharmacies, video stores, even a movie theater. He takes daily walks to stay in shape and looks forward to attending a few Braves games. The Clermont feels safe and comfortable to him, but he never intended to remain here this long.

"Friends have asked me, 'Why do you stay at that place?' I tell them, 'I don't know. I'm just there,'" he says wistfully. "Some people get trapped here, paying the rent week by week. I don't make any excuses for being here, but I can't fault nobody else. My consolation is, I'm here, but it's not because there's nowhere else I can go."

Rumors that the Clermont has been, or will be, sold have circulated for as long as Anna Copello can remember. A lifelong resident of nearby Linwood Street and president of the Poncey-Highland Neighborhood Association, Copello feels certain that the hotel isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

"The neighborhood joke is that the old lady who owns it won't sell it at any price and they'll have to pry the deed from her cold, dead hands," Copello laughs.

Yes, that's certainly a knee-slapper, all right. And, according to the children of Glenn and Lillian Loudermilk, it's quite accurate.

Glenn, who also was the one-time co-owner of the historic Imperial Hotel, bought the Clermont Hotel in the 1950s. Lillian, now in her 70s, took charge of the Clermont when her husband died two decades ago. (The lounge has been separately owned and operated since the '50s, doesn't have a lease and pays its rent month to month.)

The widow Loudermilk is known for being tightlipped, and her three adult children are only slightly more forthcoming. Their mother, they contend, has fielded as many as four or five calls a week about the hotel from prospective buyers, but has a strong emotional attachment to the building and simply isn't interested in selling.

"(People) keep calling and offering and I keep telling them I will not sell it," Loudermilk says before cutting short a very brief interview.

Copello isn't surprised. "This is the South and, among older people here, hanging onto land is almost a religious thing," she explains.

Todd Prinke, a commercial real estate expert with intown developer Weaver & Woodbery, says condos would seem an obvious redevelopment option for the Clermont, but he believes the intown market has been overbuilt in the last couple of years and will need some time to absorb the excess product.

"The building is an icon and I definitely think it's a desirable location," he says. "I just don't know if it's desirable right now."

Maybe in another couple of years, we'll see more town homes like those that shocked many intowners when they went up across the street from the Clermont two years ago, quickly selling for upwards of $300,000. One unit facing the hotel is already back on the market for $360,000; its owner, Chad Dickinson, says the hotel and its residents never caused him any problems.

Reflecting that his beloved Ponce de Leon Avenue has become downright respectable again over the past few years -- with gourmet groceries, new bookstores and restaurants under construction -- George Mitchell seems to admire both the hotel and its fabled lounge for swimming against the tsunami of change.


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