After lying dormant and neglected for three years, the Empress Palace in Woodland has new owners and is set to reopen for business this spring as The Empress Estate.
Built in 1985, the 13,000-square-foot French chateau mansion on Green Mountain was a local destination for weddings and other events. But, the recent recession took its toll on previous owner Rob Neuschwander, who closed the Empress on Feb. 1, 2009 after filing bankruptcy. According to public records, the property was sold under foreclosure proceedings for $1,337,400.
The new owners, Stevie and Zoe Saleem, acquired the property on March 30 for $231,000 and immediately saw the scale of the challenge that lay before them.
“There were times when we walked away from it, thinking it’s just too big for the both of us to handle,” said Stevie. “But when the realtor showed it to us, we started thinking of all the possibilities and dreams we could come up with, and that kept us coming back to it.”
Using their successful business endeavors with refurbishing property in the Oregon coastal town of Rockaway and elsewhere in the Vancouver area, the Saleems also knew what they were getting into.
“We’re hands on, so we know the rules and we know how to do things the right way,” said Zoe. “I did about three months of homework on this place, bringing in architects, landscapers, appraisers, everyone who could verify what shape the property was in.”
The first conclusion they came to was, while the Empress was built with a solid skeleton, it was never properly finished. The result was extensive water damage from the roof through the three floors of the west wing. The exterior stucco was also in serious need of repair, as was the massive archway over the front door, which is supported by six gigantic columns.
“There was talk that it was in such bad shape that it might need to be torn down,” said Zoe. “When we got started, we discovered the Empress is the only building in the county that was built to withstand earthquakes. It just took about 30 years to get the rest of it built right.”
The interior has been restored extensively as well. Gone are the maroon walls and carpet, replaced with neutral colors designed to allow for changes in decoration from one party to the next.
“We had walls that were pink, green, maroon, about every color you could think of, in every room,” said Stevie. “Since that was the trend when it was still in business, we figured the best thing to do was simplify it all with one color, then we could leave it to each party planner to decide how to build on top of it. We want folks to walk in here and feel the same creative spark we had when we first saw it.”
That spark has led the Saleems to consider a myriad of events for the Empress, in addition to weddings. There is talk of transforming part of it into a bed and breakfast, hosting both corporate and non-profit functions and also having themed events like classic masquerade balls and holiday concerts.
“What we want is for this place to become a destination for everyone in the area, for whatever reason,” said Zoe. “If someone has a party they want to plan for their company, or since we do a lot of support for Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, we’d love to be somewhere they can come to put on fundraisers as well.”
With weddings already being booked, the Empress is running a special for their first year with a $1,000 discount on reservation deposits, and also offering a complimentary two-night stay in one of the Saleem’s Rockaway Beach Cottages.
“We understand how stressful weddings are, so we thought it would be something the newlyweds could give to their parents to help them relax when it’s all done,” Zoe said.
The Empress Estates already celebrated its grand opening earlier this month, which the Saleems said was attended by nearly 1,000 people who were very supportive and enthusiastic about their plans.
“What we were told by people from all over the area, from Vancouver to Longview, was there isn’t a real event center nearby,” said Stevie. ”We really want to become that spot that the entire county can come to and use for whatever they can think of in terms of events. We want to help Woodland grow and if we can help attract more people and more business here, the better.”
“We never bought the place thinking we were going to make money off it,” added Zoe. “The goal is to make it self-sustaining and to last as long as possible.”
The Empress Estate is located at 460 Empress Lane, in Woodland. More information can be found at their website, www.TheEmpressEstate.com, or on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. To make a reservation or schedule an event, contact Stevie at (360)225-5555, or via email at info@TheEmpressEstate.com.