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Ailing Resort Sold; Once a Celebrity Hot Spot

August 3, 1991

FRENCH LICK, Ind. (AP) _ The ailing French Lick Springs Resort, whose mineral waters and casino drew such diverse personalities as Franklin D. Roosevelt and gangster Al Capone, has a new owner.

Luther James, owner of hotels, inns and rental property in Kentucky and Indiana, bought the once-fashionable 485-room resort for $2.6 million Thursday.

″We plan to restore the property to its prior stature as the premier resort in the Midwest ... The legend of the French Lick Springs Resort will soon be reawakened,″ said James, a Louisville, Ky., businessman.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the resort’s popularity reached its peak when the wealthy were drawn to its mineral waters and illegal gambling.

Actress Lana Turner, actor John Barrymore, composer Irving Berlin, the Vanderbilts and President Truman were on the guest lists.

Capone gambled at the casino, and Roosevelt announced his candidacy for the presidency in the hotel’s convention hall in 1931.

Besides the $2.6 million price, James will assume a $550,000 loan he must repay to the town of French Lick, best known now as the home of Boston Celtics basketball star Larry Bird.

Norman Rales, 70, a Potomac, Md., businessman, had been trying for two years to sell the 90-year-old resort, French Lick’s second largest employer.

Rales’ son, Josh, estimated that renovations would cost between $10 million and $15 million, with most of the work needed in the hotel rooms.

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