It was May 2009 when Ashley Fitzgerald noticed a large crack running down the east side of the Elliott House Inn, where she is manager. It was near a bolt that was installed to stabilize the Queen Street structure after the 1886 earthquake.
The inn's operators called in an engineer, who was alarmed to see the stuccoed building leaning about 2 feet toward the carefully manicured courtyard. The engineer, in turn, called in a city building inspector, who condemned the downtown building and ordered it vacated.
The Elliott House Inn, a onetime bed-and-breakfast that was converted into a hybrid of a condominium and a hotel in 2006, was suddenly out of business.
Since then, work crews rebuilt the exterior walls, added new framing and refurbished most of the rooms. On Friday, the inn is set to reopen for business, capping an extensive two-year restoration.
That the inn could be saved at all is a minor miracle.
During the project, it was found that the former site of a private residence, which had been badly damaged from a fire during the Civil War, probably was rebuilt with scavenged materials soon after the war. The mortar later would deteriorate to powder.
The old bricks literally were sitting on top of each other with nothing holding them in place, said Larry Spelts, asset management director for Charlestowne Hotels, which manages the Elliott House. Gradually, the inn's main building began tilting. Then the crack appeared.
"The workers were able to disassemble the brick with no force used to separate the bricks," Spelts said.
The Elliott House Inn operates as a lodging under the ownership of a condominium association. Most of the 25 units are owned by local residents, though a few belong to people in North Carolina, California, Indiana and Oregon, Spelts said.
Not that it matters much to visitors, who pay anywhere from $99 to $289 a night, depending on the season and other factors. Fitzgerald said: "99.9 percent of the guests have no idea this is a condo instead of a hotel."
Fitzgerald said all the hard work of the past two years will come together by Friday's reopening.
"We've already sold out the first two weekends in November," she said as painters, flooring crews and building inspectors scurried about to finish the structure, which is between restaurants 82 Queen and Husk.
"It's slowly kind of falling in place," she added.