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Villa slowly striding into '90s


Dispatch/Argus Photo By Todd Mizener

The Villa, once home to the Sisters of the Vistation, has been undergoing much renovation since it was bought by Davenport veterinarian in 1995. It has a restaurant and is being renovated for a bed and breakfast. The Tea Room is one of the more popular spots for guests.

ROCK ISLAND -- Time is on the side of The Villa, However, the era is anyone's guess.

``We're in the 19th Century trying to get to the 20th,'' general manager Jeanine McGuire said. Since Davenport veterinarian Joe Seng bought the convent and boarding school at 1600 20th St. in 1995, Mrs. McGuire and her staff have had to battle with old equipment, the installation of new phone lines and efforts to bring the 100-year-old building into the '90s.

Since 1995, The Villa has been in the process of a rebirth as classrooms become shops and bedrooms for the bed and breakfast. Mrs. McGuire said 25 to 30 people come daily for breakfast and lunch in the vast common areas of the building. On weekends and other times, the grounds and ballroom are used for weddings, receptions and proms.

The Villa was not intended for those purposes.

When Mr. Seng bought The Villa, Mrs. McGuire said it was near the wrecking ball, after 15 years on the market without a buyer. The Sisters of the Visitation, past owners of The Villa, put the estate up for sale in 1980.

Mrs. McGuire said Mr. Seng planned only to fix it up, when someone suggested he use part of it for a restaurant. Soon, she said, he proposed a small restaurant, bar, ballroom and banquet room. He got it all done in three years.

``It was like a snowball effect,'' she said.

Half the 14.2 acre estate has been renovated. Just three parts of the 200-plus room estate -- convent, school and sanctuary -- are being used. One section houses international students for Blackhawk and St. Ambrose colleges, while another is being transformed into a bed and breakfast.

The Villa, with seating for more than 200 people, is a popular spot for special occasions, like weddings. They also have a dress shop, photo studio and other facilities. Although Mrs. McGuire said The Villa doesn't advertise much, word gets around about what's beyond its brick walls.

``People are so interested in The Villa,'' she said. ``There's not that many places who can hold a wedding, reception and provide housing for the bride and groom in one area.''

-- By Kristophere' Owens (February 9, 1998)

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