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Could historic boutique hotel cement Bristol as Bucks County newest travel destination?

by Staff

Bernard Mazzocchi is a man on a mission. He wants to bring the hotel experience back to Bristol Borough.

“The town knows we need a hotel,” he said. “I’m of the philosophy, build it and they will come.”

But, he’s not building a mammoth structure with lots of rooms. Rather, he is converting an historic old brick mansion dating to the 1700s at 235 Radcliffe Street into a “boutique hotel” of nine units, keeping with the small riverfront borough’s vibe.

It may be just what the town, which has rebuilt and revived so much of its commercial district on Mill and Market streets in recent years, needs to truly make it a destination not only for shoppers but for tourists visiting Bucks County for a few days or the weekend.

After all, they can come to Bristol by car, train and even boat, as the town, with a $1.5 million federal grant, installed docks for pleasure boats in recent years.

Now they will have a place for an overnight or longer stay, within walking distance of the Bristol Riverside Theater, the Grundy Museum, multiple drinking and dining establishments and all sorts of shops that have opened in the borough since it won the Deluxe Corp.’s Small Business Revolution contest as the best small town in America in 2017.

Cultural and community events have also long drawn visitors to the town that has doubled-down on its riverfront location, walkable business district, decent parking and historic properties.

More: Bristol shops, restaurants to host “Pour Tour” to celebrate best Main Street anniversary

“Having a boutique hotel in Bristol Borough will help generate more economic impact for the town and Bucks County as visitors that stay overnight spend more than day trippers,” said Paul Bencivengo, director of Visit Bucks County in an email. “It also enhances the experience as visitors can walk to town and partake in all the great amenities that Bristol Borough has to offer.”

History is a big attraction in the river town dating to 1681, and the historic house being turned into a hotel fits right in.

Bernard Mazzocchi outside the former Fidelity Savings Bank building he is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

Bernard Mazzocchi outside the former Fidelity Savings Bank building he is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

Celebrating the history of the Don DeOnis house on Radcliffe Street in Bristol

A plaque commemorating the former home office of Fidelity Savings & Loan as the home of Spanish Ambassador Don De Onis, which Bernard Mazzocchi is renovating into a boutique hotel, on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.A plaque commemorating the former home office of Fidelity Savings & Loan as the home of Spanish Ambassador Don De Onis, which Bernard Mazzocchi is renovating into a boutique hotel, on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

A plaque commemorating the former home office of Fidelity Savings & Loan as the home of Spanish Ambassador Don De Onis, which Bernard Mazzocchi is renovating into a boutique hotel, on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

According to “The History of Old Homes on Radcliffe Street,” it was the home of the Spanish ambassador to the United States in the early 19th century, Don Louis DeOnis.

It was the site of the first proxy wedding in the US in 1817, when the Spanish groom could not travel to America as he served in the military.

The Radcliffe Street history describes it as “one of the strangest wedding ceremonies ever performed up to that time … The bride’s father represented his intended son-in-law and she was represented by his sister in Spain.”

And in true Bristol fashion, the town folks had a lot to say about it, according to the book.

“It was a grand affair and never before were so many grenadiers of Spanish blood in Bristol at one time,” the Radcliffe history reported, adding that “the affair caused much criticism among the ladies in Bristol, some of whom thought such a marriage would not be legal.”

Bernard Mazzocchi walks through the former Fidelity Savings & Laon building he is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.Bernard Mazzocchi walks through the former Fidelity Savings & Laon building he is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

Bernard Mazzocchi walks through the former Fidelity Savings & Laon building he is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

More: Bristol won national attention and redevelopment help 5 years ago. A look at how it changed Mill Street

Plan for Bristol hotel in historic building

Mike Lafferty, left, with his brother-in-law, Bernie Mazzocchi, center, and father-in-law, Bernard Mazzocchi, right, at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building they are renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.
(Credit: Daniella Heminghaus)Mike Lafferty, left, with his brother-in-law, Bernie Mazzocchi, center, and father-in-law, Bernard Mazzocchi, right, at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building they are renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.
(Credit: Daniella Heminghaus)

Mike Lafferty, left, with his brother-in-law, Bernie Mazzocchi, center, and father-in-law, Bernard Mazzocchi, right, at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building they are renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024. (Credit: Daniella Heminghaus)

In December 2020, Mazzocchi bought the building now known as the “Don DeOnis” home from William Penn Bank, which had acquired it in a merger with Fidelity Savings & Loan.

He wasn’t sure what he could do with it, but looking at its layout, he decided to ask Architect Roy Pope to do a survey, the first step in determining if a small hotel would be possible.

Mazzocchi liked Pope’s concept for the nine units and now has the three-story building down to its rafters as he and his son, Bernie, and son-in-law, Mike Lafferty, head up a team of contractors working on the site.

They hope to have the hotel completed by the end of the year.

Mazzocchi showed visitors through the shell of the home now under renovation and down the same elegant staircase that the Spanish bride would have used, under original dental molding. Both the staircase and molding are being salvaged and restored.

The second-floor stair railing and spindles at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building Bernard Mazzocchi is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.The second-floor stair railing and spindles at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building Bernard Mazzocchi is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

The second-floor stair railing and spindles at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building Bernard Mazzocchi is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

Hotel missing piece in Bristol redevelopment

Bill Pezza, Bristol resident and president of its Raising the Bar civic group that has helped lead the town’s revitalization, said the question of lodging in Bristol has long been an issue in turning it into a destination.

“This is a piece we’ve been wanting for a long time. That’s why we’re excited about it,” he said, calling the building a “boutique hotel” because of its size and ambiance near the waterfront on Radcliffe Street.

The hotel’s frontage on Radcliffe offer glimpses of the Delaware River and its back will have a courtyard.

Bernard Mazzochi has long had a vision for Bristol

Mazzocchi’s own history in Bristol is long and layered. He operated an auto body shop before turning to renovating older structures.

He admits he has an eye for color and a “creative side” that helps him envision how to undertake a renovation but also calls in experts like Designer Michael Gorman who is helping with this project.

More: Borough celebrates ‘Bristol Stomp’ mural with jumpin’ good time

Michael Gorman, the project's designer, left, talks with Bernard Mazzocchi, right, at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building they are renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.Michael Gorman, the project's designer, left, talks with Bernard Mazzocchi, right, at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building they are renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

Michael Gorman, the project’s designer, left, talks with Bernard Mazzocchi, right, at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building they are renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

Mazzocchi, 69, grew up in Tullytown and now lives in Edgely in nearby Bristol Township, having only moved about a mile in his life. He has three sons and a daughter.

His first undertaking in Bristol was to purchase the old Jefferson School and turned its 12 classrooms into 12 apartments. Then he renovated the firehouse at the corner of Pond and Mulberry streets as well as a grocery store at the corner of Pond and Lincoln streets before turning to the O’Boyle Ice Cream Factory at Farragut Avenue and Green Lane into a medical facility.

Bernard Mazzocchi walks through the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building he is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.Bernard Mazzocchi walks through the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building he is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

Bernard Mazzocchi walks through the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building he is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

But his biggest project has been renovating the massive, 100,000-square-foot Canal Works building that has housed various industrial and commercial uses since it was first constructed as a wallpaper factory back in 1882.

From his expansive office in the Canal Works, Mazzocchi dreams up plans for the borough, all the while listening to his office administrator, Amy Nowicki, who hails from Levittown’s Golden Ridge neighborhood and has worked for him on and off for 34 years. Mazzocchi readily admits she keeps the company humming along while he’s busy hatching his latest project.

“She runs me,” he said.

She was working for Mazzocchi when he first bought the Canal Works and remembers it being a vacant, stone building with “no heat and no air-conditioning.”

She took a hiatus from working there. When she returned and saw the building restored and occupied by businesses, “I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

The crown molding at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building Bernard Mazzocchi is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.The crown molding at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building Bernard Mazzocchi is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

The crown molding at the former Fidelity Savings & Loan building Bernard Mazzocchi is renovating into a boutique hotel on Radcliffe St. in Bristol on Monday, Mar.4, 2024.

Mazzocchi said he makes sure that projects are done right. He’s not a flipper. What he undertakes, he’s doing it for his family “to inherit some day.

“We only do good things … don’t know how to do it wrong,” he said. “We’ve created a lot of jobs. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Bristol Borough to welcome boutique hotel on Radcliffe Street

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