BY D’ARCY PATRICK EGAN
The cornerstone of the City of Port Clinton, the Island House Hotel on Madison Street in downtown Port Clinton has new owners and a vision of returning the iconic hotel to its glory of the late 1800s, when it welcomed the creme de la creme of American society to the beautiful shoreline of Lake Erie.
Eager to return the Island House Hotel and Restaurant to its former glory is Columbus area restauranteur and developer Jason Liu, who owns J. Liu Restaurant & Bar in Dublin and Worthington. His two locations feature Asian Fusion fine casual dining for Asian and Italian entrees, along with seafood, soups, salads, sandwiches and steaks. He also owns Woody’s Wing Shops in Worthington and Hilliard.
“I’m excited about the opportunities we’ll find in Port Clinton, as we adapt to this new environment,” said Liu by telephone on Tuesday morning. “We’re willing to take a chance on the Island House Hotel. We know there has been a lack of attention in its upkeep, but we love the iconic building. We want to make the property much nicer and work to bring back its former glory.
“I’ve been most impressed with the energy of the people of Port Clinton and the area. They are the main reason we pursued this opportunity, because everyone is so pro business and pro development.”
Liu has purchased 37 of 39 condo-style hotel rooms and the restaurant space at the Island House Hotel in Port Clinton. The Island House will be open on a limited basis for the remainder of this season, said Port Clinton Mayor Mike Snider, and will open in 2023 under the J. Liu Restaurant brand.
“The first time I met Jason Liu, he brought along a team of about 15 to investigate purchasing the Island House Hotel,” said Snider. “Well respected in the Columbus area, he was given the Citizen of the Year Award in Dublin, Ohio.”
The ownership of the hotel room condos at the Island House Hotel, an arrangement that is gaining in popularity as vacation home prices continue to increase in the Port Clinton area, have resulted in a flurry of real estate transactions involving the property.
“There is an intent to bring back the glory of the Island House Hotel building— and bring back the magic of Port Clinton,” said Snider. “Driving all of this has been the success of the Music on Madison Stage on Madison Street, and the $34 million in infrastructure projects we’ve just begun around the city.”
For Snider, there is family history at the Island House Hotel.
“My great uncle, Hurd Snider, was a bartender at the Island House Hotel in 1904,” said Snider, with a laugh.
Originally opened in 1870, the Island House hotel was designed as a luxury destination for the nation’s elite making the voyage along the northern shore of Lake Erie. Though the first structure burned down in 1882, it had become such an Ohio icon that it was quickly rebuilt.
At a construction cost of roughly $25,000 — over $600,000 in today’s money — the massive investment in the small town of Port Clinton ensured the city would become a must-visit destination for people from around the nation.
When the majestic wooden doors swung open again in 1886, the Island House Hotel sported 50 lavish hotel rooms, and yet only one communal bathroom. At the time, it was the height of modern elegance, and quickly became the beating heart of Port Clinton. With a steady stream of travelers, the area’s largest saloon, and walking distance to the lake, the hotel was an ideal location for anyone making the night in Northern Ohio, and a great place to meet folks from every corner of America.