Bronwen Palilla remembers moving to Lebanon in the 1990s and admiring the beautiful three-story home, then used as a real-estate office, on the north side of Elm Street, also known as Historic Route 66, at Sherman Avenue.
“The yard was always beautiful – green, lush,” she recalls. “The flowers were always beautiful. It kind of stuck in my mind.”
Two decades later, Bronwen, her husband, Randy, and business partners Jason and Michelle Cochran have bought the old home, and, after eight months of remodeling and restoration, opened it as The Manor House Inn, a bed-and-breakfast with a target clientele that includes travelers on Route 66. The inn’s website describes it as “A Route 66 Retreat.”
Their ambitious project has returned the home to its earlier role on The Mother Road. From 1932 to 1975, the building provided overnight accommodations to Route 66 travelers under the names Lenz Homotel – an amalgamation of “home” and “motel” – and, in its later years, simply the Lenz Motel.
Considering the role it played on Route 66, little has been written about the history of the Lenz Homotel. It’s likely that the 14-room home was built in 1903 by Josiah and Mary Parkhurst, who sold it four years later to the parents of William A. Lenz. The entire Lenz family moved to Lebanon to get away from the cold of Wisconsin.
William Lenz fell in love with the Parkhursts’ daughter, Ethel May, who was painting a window sash when the Lenz family first looked at the house. The two were married in 1908. William, already a talented and innovative photographer, opened a photo studio in Lebanon the same year.
About 1929, William and Ethel bought his parents’ house, returning Ethel to the home she hadn’t wanted her dad to sell in 1907. In 1932, they opened it to travelers as a tourist home. “They supplied linens and home-cooked meals at a time when campgrounds supplied tents and early cabin courts supplied bare mattresses and communal kitchens,” Quinta Scott wrote in her 2000 book, “Along Route 66.”
By then, William had sold his photo studio in order to concentrate on making print washers, his own invention, for other photographers. In a 1976 interview for “Bittersweet” magazine, he told how he hired seven men to help him manufacture 200 print washers every 30 days for the government during World War II.
A painting of The Manor House Inn by Lebanon artist Alva Hazell, commissioned by its new owners, pays tribute to William Lenz’s career in photography. The watercolor-and-colored-pencil artwork, which hangs in the living room, includes a painted strip of 35mm film and a camera’s shutter.
Private residence in recent years
The building’s most-recent owner, Millie Ruble, used it as her private residence and office for her real-estate business until her death in 2015. Bronwen and Michelle credit Millie’s son, David, with adding amenities to the house for his mother, including a modern kitchen and a spacious two-car garage that will be available to guests at the inn.
“It would be hard to live in an ordinary-built home after living here,” Mrs. Ruble said in a video she made after she put the “Lenz Manor” up for sale. “What I love about this house is the history and the fact that Mr. Lenz put so much of himself in it.” The Ruble family continued to advertise the home for sale after Mrs. Ruble’s death.
“We had seen the house for sale,” Bronwen says. “It had been in the newspaper for a while.”
The Palillas have owned the popular Elm Street Eatery, a few blocks west of the inn, since 2007, and Michelle works there. (Jason Cochran is a banker.) During a lull before lunch one Wednesday last winter, Michelle noticed a larger-than-usual ad in the newspaper to sell the Lenz Manor.
Michelle suggested that the two couples buy it. “We joked about it all day,” she says.
Then Michelle suggested that they turn it into a bed-and-breakfast. Randy said yes.
“We went and looked at it the next week,” Michelle says. “We fell in love with it upon walking in the front door.”
Bronwen remembers that the house was “spotless.”
Within a week, the two couples had put together a team of contractors, craftsmen, furniture experts, city representatives and their banker to tour the house with them and listen to their concept of converting it to a bed-and-breakfast.
All were enthusiastic about the plan, “Every single person said, ‘Do it!’” Bronwen says.
The Cochrans and the Palillas made an offer for the property on Jan. 9. They learned that a second offer had been made. And they were relieved when their offer was the one accepted.
The project has not been without challenges, the biggest being to bring the house up to code – such as electric and fire codes – while retaining its Old World charm.
“The challenge was updating it without tearing it up,” Michelle says.
“Without ruining the integrity of the house,” Bronwen adds.
The couples had a timeline for remodeling, hoping to be open for graduation in May, but one thing led to another. “The floors took longer than anticipated because (the contractor) ran into some wood rot,” Bronwen says. That pushed the schedule back for the other work, and some craftsmen had to be rescheduled because of other commitments. Still, the couples stayed with their original choices to perform the work. “We wanted to do it right,” Bronwen says.
When May turned into June, they hoped to be open by the Route 66 Festival. But the work continued. Duane Garren and his family stayed at The Manor House Inn as a trial run in early August, when he was master of ceremonies for the Lebanon Gospel Music Get-Together. “They loved it,” Bronwen says.
Finally, they officially opened the week of Sept. 14.
Besides being happy with the results, Bronwen says, the couples learned that they work well together as a team. “For the most part, we all wanted the same ending result.”
‘Six gorgeous rooms’ for guests
The Manor House Inn’s Facebook page touts its “six gorgeous rooms.” Each is decorated in a theme that matches its name, each showcases original fixtures along with modern amenities, and each has a welcome basket for the next guest.
The Carriage House on the first floor was Millie Ruble’s master bedroom, built in what originally was a carriage house. The private bath includes a jetted tub.
All the rooms on the second floor were sleeping rooms in the Lenz Homotel, Michelle explains. One has been converted to the Route 66 Game Room. Board games fill a glass-faced cabinet, and the walls are covered with Route 66 artwork, including the Munger Moss Motel’s iconic neon sign and the Gasconade River Bridge. Michelle grew up four miles from the bridge and remembers swimming in the river with her sister.
Michelle says all the artwork in the game room was bought from the Kinderhook Treasures gift shop at the Lebanon-Laclede County Library.
Another former sleeping room on that floor has been converted to the Lenz Library, a sitting room with shelves of books, mostly by local authors. Hanging high on the walls are two wooden boards that date to William Lenz’s business building photographic print washers.
“This is one of the two rooms left with the original murals,” Michelle says, pointing to the walls.
One of the guest rooms on that floor, the Whirlwind Room, is named for the Whirlwind Ranch, which raises alpacas east of Lebanon. A quilt hanging on a chair and a bed scarf both are made from alpaca fleece.
Another guest room is named after Nelson’s Dream Village, the famous Route 66 motel that the Nelson family built on the northwest corner of Route 66 and Highway 5 in Lebanon. Michelle says the name is fitting “given that Randy and Bronwen own the property (the site of Elm Street Eatery) that the Dream Village stood on.”
The Dream Village Room includes historic photographs of Nelson’s Dream Village as well as more artwork by Alva Hazell.
Decorations in the Bennett Springs Room include a dip net handmade by longtime Bennett Springs businessman Paul Weaver. “This is the only other room that had the mural existing on the wall,” Michelle says.
The second floor also includes a porch overlooking the front lawn. “It’s a beautiful place to sit and have a cup of coffee,” Michelle says. The porch is jokingly named after their banker, Steve Hite, market president of First State Community Bank in Lebanon.
The entire third floor is called the Dogwood Suite, a largely open area that includes a master sleeping area, a full kitchen and a “Kids’ Tree House Room” with two single beds, “kind of like what you’d build in your own yard in a tree,” Michelle says.
The Dogwood Suite is suitable, Michelle says, for a family that will be in town for a few days. The Manor House Inn’s first official booking will be a couple spending their wedding night in the suite.
Back downstairs, the first floor includes an office with a floral design painted as a border at the top of the walls. The dining room sits off a modern kitchen where breakfasts will be prepared for guests on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. On other mornings, guests can have a continental breakfast or a voucher for breakfast at the Elm Street Eatery. A coffee bar is planned. The transoms and stained glass in the living room are all original. “The floor is all original,” Bronwen says.
In furnishing the inn, the Palillas and Cochrans bought locally as much as possible. “All the living-room furniture and all the upholstered headboards were made at Justice Furniture,” Michelle says.
The new name, The Manor House Inn, evolved over time.
“We wanted to pay homage to its roots, but we wanted to make it our own,” Michelle says. “We always called it ‘the manor.’” Then the couples added “house” and “inn” because they wanted three words besides “The.”
“We’ve gotten a lot of good reaction on the name,” Michelle says.
The Manor House Inn is open, but the finishing touches will continue.
“I think we’re down to almost the last few checks to write,” Michelle says with a chuckle.