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Welcome Inn Manor Hidden Gem Among Boarded-Up Buildings in Bronzeville

By Justin Breen | April 22, 2013 6:59am | Updated on April 22, 2013 9:43am

BRONZEVILLE — World-renowned bassist Rufus Reid did a double-take when he arrived at the Welcome Inn Manor bed and breakfast for the first time.

"When I took the taxi there, the taxi driver parked right in front of the place, and I said 'Are you sure this is the right place?' " Reid said.

Reid's reaction is common among customers. The B&B, 4563 S. Michigan Ave., is surrounded by boarded-up buildings. There is no signage that indicates Welcome Inn Manor is, in fact, a bed and breakfast.

And that's just fine with owners Mell Monroe, the official innkeeper, and his wife of 15 years, Angela Higginbotham.

"This is the 'hood now," Monroe said. "I don't want people to know that there are people here with money to spend. Sometimes it's nice to keep a low profile."

Once inside though, the Welcome Inn Manor is indeed welcoming.

During a recent visit, the smell of chocolate chip waffles permeated the air. The red stone home — built in 1893 for Samuel Karpen of Karpen Brothers Furniture and purchased by Monroe and Higginbotham in 2002 — is filled with original art, a rustic staircase, and multiple comfy chairs and couches.

Wycliffe Gordon, a six-time Trombonist of the Year, has stayed at the Welcome Inn Manor three times, and he plans to be a guest there again.

"The layout, the floor plan, the artwork ... it's just very well planned," Gordon said. "To be a full-functioning bed and breakfast on that level is pretty great."

Monroe, a former executive headhunter, said he started the B&B in 2011 to help pay for the house's remodeling — he estimated it cost $300,000 for the makeover — but also to reduce stress in his life.

"The most I have to worry about now is changing beds," said Monroe, 58, an East Orange, N.J., native.

Monroe said about 40 percent of his clients are foreigners. He averages about 300 guests per year, and most of them stay at least two days. The average rate for one of the B&B's five rooms is about $175.

Welcome Inn Manor is about a five-minute drive from the University of Chicago and Illinois Institute of Technology, and about 12 minutes from Downtown.

Higginbotham, an assistant principal at Barton Elementary School, said her husband's "gregarious" personality is a key to finding and retaining customers.

"He always kind of keeps things going and makes people laugh and kind of draws them in," said Higginbotham, a St. Francis de Sales High School graduate. "He's a real people person."

This summer, Monroe plans to add a "What You Haven't Seen" tour of the South Side, featuring historic homes, jazz clubs and other locales.

A majority of the B&B's guests aren't African-American, and Monroe said he enjoys introducing them to a different culture.

"Many of them have never stayed in an African-American home," he said. "They don't know this part of town.

"But once they stay here, it's over. I cook. I've got stories. I have fun."