Former Beatles-themed hotel is now co-owner's home

A frantic nighttime call from a hotel guest about a possible gang meet-up taking place in front of the Obladi in historic Ellicott City recently sent co-owner Zan Wilson scurrying from home to check out the loud crowd of 30 people.

She was amused to find that the "gang" was just a lively ghost tour of Main Street that had assembled on the sidewalk beneath the guest's window.

For Wilson and business partner T. Garland, the hectic schedule required to run the Beatles-themed micro-hotel often made it seem like there were "Eight Days [in] a Week."

What began as an adventure in 2010 for two 50-ish female friends who were novice entrepreneurs ended Oct. 31 when they closed the hotel to reclaim their personal lives.

"We felt a real affection for our guests," Wilson said, noting they ranged from European tourists to Merriweather Post Pavilion performers to authors in town for book signings at Barnes and Noble. All appreciated the old-world ambience of Main Street.

"But we were tired," Wilson said. "We had basically been on call 24/7 for three years, and we were missing out on a lot of other important things in life."

But ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, as the refrain of the McCartney-Lennon song goes, and so will the 3,500-square-foot plum-colored building, which is next to Cacao Lane restaurant. The structure that dates to 1838 is now the new home of the Wilson family, who moved in last week from their stone cottage on Old Columbia Pike.

Wilson, her husband Bert, and two of their three kids, Will, 23, and Bram, 22, have made the transition fairly seamlessly. The sons work for their father's energy development company. Daughter Sara, 27, lives in Columbia.

Even their dogs are adapting well. Pearl, a 69-pound pit bull mix, and Ernie, an 8-pound Chihuahua, are adjusting to outdoor time on the brick patio off the third floor.

Wilson had a soft spot for the building before the friends purchased it for $390,000 in 2008 from the estate of Alda Baptiste Castaldi, who had operated Alda Baptiste dress shop for 30 years. Wilson had purchased her bridal gown at the shop in 1982.

"I always wanted to live in something old," she said. "And I have always loved Main Street."

The co-owners' financial investment in renovating the building — which Wilson said was three times what they had originally budgeted — has made the structure equally viable as a home. Such features as gas in the four former wood-burning fireplaces, water sprinklers and waterproofing will continue to pay off, she said.

"My husband called [the unforeseen expenses] our tuition since it certainly was a learning experience," she said. "But he was always supportive."

The prints of Richard Avedon's psychedelic portraits of John, Paul, George and Ringo will remain in the four bedrooms, Wilson said, adding she's a Beatles fan but not a fanatic. Guests often brought Beatles collectibles to show the owners and some seemed to expect to find Beatles knick-knacks on display at the Obladi, she said, but that was never the owners' intent.

It could take a while for Main Street patrons to adjust to the change to a private residence, though.

Just last Friday two camera-toting tourists with long lenses stood apart across the street, taking shots of the building, which bears an attention-getting 12-foot-wide banner from a Beatles song that reads, "It's so fine, it's sunshine, it's the word, love." Wilson said she plans to change it out for a Christmas sentiment with the help of a sign company.

In the inn's final days, Wilson was touched by former customers who called to see if it was possible to stay one more time even after it had officially closed, "like maybe the closing didn't apply to them."

A sign indicating the building is now a private residence will be put up soon and the Obladi stencil on the front door will come down. The website was taken down last weekend.

Barry Gibson, whom passers-by know for the bubbles he blows on the sidewalk of his Forget-Me-Not Factory shop a few doors down from the Obladi, said he is sorry to see the hotel close.

"It was well-received on Main Street when they opened," he said, noting there hadn't been a hotel in historic Ellicott City since Howard House and Patapsco Hotel both closed sometime between the 1920s and 1940s. "They did a fabulous job on the renovations and deserve all the praise for doing it right."

But Gibson knows that's not really the end of their story.

"They're really good community people, and I'm sure they'll still be involved with Main Street," he said.

Wilson said she and Garland, who bonded when their children attended Thunder Hill Elementary School in the 1990s, have no regrets and plan to partner in what she called another "Ellicott City adventure of some kind" after taking a few months off to breathe.

"They say you shouldn't go into business with your best friend, but it worked out for us," she said. "We met some great people and did what we set out to do."

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