Architectural artifacts fill eclectic Cliffbreakers

Part of the tour brochure reads like a tribute to elegant, bygone hotels: Tufted parlor benches were moved from the Astor in Manhattan. Five matching crystal chandeliers hung at the Claridge in Paris.

In the dining room is the Baldachino, a carved walnut ticket booth from New York City’s Grand Central Station. Within eyesight is 100 feet of carved marble railing, brought from Barclay’s Bank in London.

Glazed terra cotta lions lived at the McCormick mansion in Chicago until 1953. A carved maple mantelpiece, with beveled mirror, used to belong to songwriter Cole Porter.

More than 300 antiques and architectural artifacts make the Lexington Cliffbreakers Riverside Resort a one-of-a-kind destination in Rockford, Ill.

Collector Jimmy Vitale, now retired, wove this unusual blend of remnants into his restaurant and banquet design in 1993. Five years later, he added a 105-room hotel and more dining space.

Jimmy “amassed a tremendous collection from around the world,” observes Michael Ellis, who since 2006 has owned the property, which overlooks the Rock River. Many of the relics were purchased during auctions or estate sales, when grand buildings were in the midst of remodeling or near demolition.

In the Cliffbreakers’ entrance is a conspicuous Italian Bazzanti fountain from the 1840s. An oak archway with mahogany embellishment comes from a courtroom in Freeport, Ill. Door surrounds, moldings, leaded doors, brass doors, stained glass windows, fireplaces and murals – all high-quality materials and exquisite craftsmanship – formerly sat in homes owned by Vanderbilts, Mortons, Studebakers, Fords and an unnamed Milwaukee beer baron.

The complete and original interior of Madison’s Fauerbach Brewery Beer Hall is here. That includes wall benches stuffed with horse hair, stained glass light fixtures, an eight-foot oak beer barrel.

A 19th century Russian samovar (used to heat water) with 12 bronze taps has been made into a table lamp. This artifact and others were part of the long-closed Wagon Wheel, a celebrity resort near Rockton, Ill., whose customers included Bob Hope and Ronald Reagan.

It all makes Cliffbreakers almost as much of a museum as it is a getaway for a meal or overnight stay. Ask for a walking tour brochure at the registration desk.

The property in late 2007 became part of The Lexington Collection, a hotel brand for one-of-a-kind properties.

“There is no other property in the world like us,” Michael asserts. Former operation, under a more generic hotel chain, “didn’t match who we are.”

Room rates during this time of year can be as low as $110. The premiere Sultan Suite – five rooms with rare pecan, ebony and ivory handcrafted furnishings – typically goes for $400 per night (but we found a web-only rate of $280).

Jimmy outbid Cher and Wayne Newton to obtain furnishings of the suite, which had belonged to the sultan of Morocco and was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition of 1899, an event that also showcased the newly completed Eiffel Tower.

Lower-priced rooms at Cliffbreakers are not heavily furnished with antiques.

One other component makes Cliffbreakers unusual. Executive chef Philippe Forcioli, a native of France, has worked with widely televised chef Jean-George Vongerichten and cooked for a slew of celebrities, including Robin Leach, Cuba Gooding, Kevin Costner, John McGinley and Paris Hilton.

Last month he was in Utah, cooking for a fundraiser associated with the Sundance Film Festival. Meeting celebrities “is a pleasure” but “helping them raise money for important charities is where I get my reward,” Philippe says. “We work hard and have lots of fun doing all of this.”

Cliffbreakers also sponsors a 10-year-old Zimbabwe boy, through its Serving and Giving campaign, associated with the Plan USA worldwide charity for children.

The hotel this month is matching, up to $10,000, contributions made by guests, employees and others.

“The concept of being a good corporate citizen is one that’s familiar to me,” says Michael. His work before this venture involved software implementation.

The Lexington Cliffbreakers River Resort is at 700 W. Riverside Blvd., Rockford. For more: www.cliffbreakers.com, 815-282-3033.

The dining room is known for its extensive Sunday brunch, which includes champagne, and its Friday night seafood buffet.

Our thanks go to retired florist Lloyd Arndt of Madison, who made us aware of Cliffbreakers.