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Under new ownership

Pending sale of Clermont Hotel means end of era — or does it?

Seeking job: Curvaceous soul sister, guerilla poet and exotic dancer. Skills: one-on-one communication, unique method for recycling beer cans. Position must permit wearing of bleach-blond wig.

Could it be true that Blondie and her fellow Clermont Lounge entertainers may soon be forced to find day jobs?

Bowing to intense pressure from a still-swelling intown loft market, the owners of the historic Clermont Hotel — including its beloved downstairs strip club — are in the process of selling the Ponce de Leon landmark.

However, the Clermont's prospective buyer is understandably cagey about what will become of the 79-year-old hotel, its namesake lounge and the many longtime residents who call the place home.

But one thing is certain, says Jeff Notrica, president of Inman Park Properties, which has the Clermont under contract. "Whatever we do, we're not going to turn widows and orphans out in the street," he says.

In fact, Notrica drops tantalizing hints that not much about the Clermont would change in the foreseeable future under his ownership, but stops short of making any predictions.

"It's a beautiful, historic structure and we're still in our due diligence," he says. "We should have a better idea in another 45 days or so."

And what about Blondie? Too soon to say, he says.

When the 67,700-square-foot hotel quietly went on the market about a month-and-a-half ago, it immediately attracted a swarm of inquiries from developers who had long had their eyes on the building — despite a $4 million asking price.

"There was an unbelievable amount of interest in the property," says Charles McDonald of Richard Bowers & Co., the listing agent.

And no wonder. In a city not known for preserving its history, the Clermont is one of the few remaining buildings to showcase the grand style associated with Neel Reid, the pre-eminent Atlanta architect of the early 1920s.

The one-acre property couldn't be better situated. It sits just west of the end of Freedom Parkway on a stretch of Ponce that — after decades of decay — is rapidly blossoming into a white-hot housing market, as well as a retail and entertainment destination.

And then there's the name recognition, visibility and notoriety that easily could transform a renovated Clermont into a Chelsea Hotel for Atlanta's hipster crowd.

Todd Prinkey, a partner in the Weaver & Woodbery development firm and another Poncey-Highland resident, says he jumped at the chance to tour the hotel, but ultimately decided the project needed more work than he was willing to take on.

"I was surprised by the relative good shape it's in, but it's going to take a lot of work because some of the rooms are so small," he says.

The most likely use of the building is for loft apartments, Prinkey says, but that an imaginative owner might find another purpose — or could keep running it as a hotel.

Owned by the Loudermilk family since the 1950s, the seven-story Clermont Hotel has operated virtually unchanged since it opened as a hotel in 1940. It was originally built as apartments.

Speculation over its imminent sale had grown rampant in recent years as nearby real-estate values skyrocketed and developers began snatching up every vacant warehouse and factory to overhaul into high-end lofts, the latest being the old Highland School on North Avenue a block away.

With Ponce now virtually hooker-free, the thinking went, how much longer could the Clermont possibly hold out? As recently as last summer, however, septuagenarian family matriarch Lillian Loudermilk was still spurning offers and insisting that her hotel was not for sale at any price.

Now, however, Ms. Lillian has moved into a nursing home and her daughter, Susan Blauvelt, the hotel's longtime manager, is overseeing the family business, broker McDonald confirms.

"If [Ms. Lillian] were in a position to do so, she'd still be behind the counter running the hotel," he says.

One of the prime questions for any Clermont-phile, of course, is what will happen to the lounge, a living, jiggling time capsule that enjoys the distinction of being Atlanta's oldest strip club. Although the basement space began life in 1955 as an upscale supper club, it was reborn a decade later as a house of burlesque and has continued that tradition — one folded dollar at a time — ever since.

Anna Copello, president of the Poncey-Highland Neighborhood Association, fondly remembers buying her very first drink at the Clermont Lounge in 1971 on her 18th birthday — then the legal drinking age.

"If you lived around here, as soon as you got old enough to drink, this is where you would come," she says, as she sips a rum and Coke on a low-key Monday evening. A young stripper walks back and forth naked past her table on her way to drop another quarter into the jukebox to pick out songs for a series of table dances.

"The Clermont has been a good neighbor," Copello says. "If there's been a shooting or stabbing here, it's been infrequent. People around here have so much affection for the Clermont that they'll stand up for the place."

It bodes well for the hotel and lounge that Notrica isn't some corporate suit working out of a suburban high-rise. He lives a block off Ponce, within walking distance of the Clermont, and has dedicated his 10-year-old firm to renovating dozens of urban and intown properties in Atlanta and Savannah.

A few years ago, when he bought the old Hilan Theatre on North Highland, he attempted to bring in the then-displaced Cotton Club because he thought it would be a good fit for the neighborhood. Residents, however, opposed having another music venue on the busy strip.

Inman Park Properties also owns and manages the 44-unit Candler Park Condominiums; East Atlanta's old Gordon Elementary School, now being converted into lofts; and the Little Five Points building that houses the Front Page News restaurant.

scott.henry@creativeloafing.com