8 US hotels with a secret history
June 25, 2020
Last Update: 2020-06-25 16:26:16
Hotels are alway full of stories – after all, they're comprised of dozens of rooms perpetually ebbing and flowing with visitors from a variety of places, operating on a dizzying array of agendas, moving in and out of their routines and moments of the unexpected. But some hotels are a little more storied than others, whether because they have a long history of their own (like the Plaza or Chelsea) or because the structures themselves had past lives.
In the past few years, such unlikely venues as jails, breweries, churches, and mental hospitals have been renovated and repurposed into stylish hotels that are a world away from the original use. Some anchor cities firmly in their pasts, giving passersby and guests a reminder of bygone eras, while others simply have an air of mystery unless you dig deeper beneath the surface.
If you curiosity is piqued, here are a few hotels with rich histories that are sure to make guests do a double take when they check in.
Portland is a city that loves its history and charm, and the Woodlark has both © courtesy of the Woodlark
1. Woodlark Hotel: Portland, Oregon
Before electric lights were the norm, homes and commercial buildings were designed with giant windows to allow the maximum amount of light to fill the space. That explains the expansive windows in some of the guest rooms at Woodlark Hotel in Portland, Oregon. Constructed in 1912, it was one of the city’s first commercial skyscrapers and originally served as the HQ for Woodard, Clarke & Co., Portland’s earliest drug store and wholesale pharmacy.
The hotel’s ceilings are so high, in fact, that some of the guest rooms have mezzanine sleeping areas accessible by spiral staircases. The hotel actually combines the skyscraper with an adjacent circa-1908 hotel, both on the National Historic Register. In keeping with Portland’s general aesthetic of sleek and modern spaces jazzed up with vintage touches, the lobby here blends the original wood-frame windows, brass inlay, and ornamental metal detailing with lush plants, comfy couches, and a coffee bar.
New Orleans is already swimming in stories, but especially at this old warehouse cum hotel © courtesy of the Old No. 77 Hotel
2. Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery: New Orleans, Louisiana
In the mid-1850s, New Orleans was a bustling port city and when ships came in and out, they needed places to buy their supplies as well as store their wares. E.J. Hart & Co., which exists today as a wholesale grocery operation, ran a giant warehouse that has now been reimagined as the stylish Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, located just four short blocks from the French Quarter in the much mellower Warehouse Arts District. The once industrial center has been transformed into a hub of creativity, with a rotation of local art adorning the lobby gallery and the 167 guest rooms, local artisans' products for sale in the gift shop, and a very clever Art-o-Mat, a repurposed cigarette machine, dispensing small treasures of art.
3. Lora Hotel: Stillwater, Minnesota
The freshwater spring under the Lora Hotel in Stillwater, Minnesota, located about 25 minutes outside the Twin Cities, once served as the water source for Jacob Wolf Brewery. The building, completed in 1868, was carved into the sandstone bluffs for very tactical reasons: to keep the beer cool. Today, the handsome rooms reflect the setting with stone walls made of Minnesota limestone that’s carved from the bluffs and many of the original wood beams are preserved throughout the hotel. Art throughout the hotel nods to the history of the brewery and the folklore of the immigrants who came to the area over 130 years ago.
If you feel en extra sense of enlightenment during your stay, it could have something to do with the LINE DC's former incarnation © courtesy of the LINE DC
4. LINE DC: Washington D.C.
Massive copper-plated front doors, 60-foot vaulted ceilings, and neoclassical touches like grand exterior columns are just a few of the gorgeous features that will tip you off to the LINE DC’s original incarnation: a church. This well-preserved architectural wonder received a makeover that highlights modern amenities without sacrificing any of its old-world details. A few of the other features that pay homage to its past life include the sunburst-like chandelier in the lobby that’s made from the church organ pipes and the sanctuary’s pews jazzed up in blue velvet. The hotel’s locally minded restaurants and bars are in sync with the surrounding businesses in Adams Morgan, a vibrant, trendy Washington D.C. neighborhood.
5. Brice Hotel: Savannah, Georgia
First a livery stable, then a cotton warehouse, then a Coca-Cola bottling plant and now, the Brice Hotel. This stylish property in Savannah, Georgia's National Historic Landmark District adds a new chapter to the rich history of the three-story brick building, which dates to the 1860s and opened as the Brice in May 2014. Images of stately horses and whimsical butterflies adorn the hallways and the lobby features enormous tufted couches set amid shelves and shelves of books arranged by color, a tribute to the city’s literary heritage. Leaf-pattern headboards in the room nod to Savannah’s famous flora. And in a shout-out to Georgia cornerstone business, Coca-Cola, the kitchen at Pacci Italian Kitchen and Bar has a Coke-glazed short rib on the menu.
If you get "Cellblock Tango" stuck in your head while you're here, it could be because the Liberty Hotel was, ironically, a jail once upon a time © courtesy of the Liberty Hotel
6. Liberty Hotel: Boston, Massachusetts
The Charles Street Jail, a colossal stone building in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, first opened and started welcoming guests, so to speak, in 1851. It housed such personalities as former Boston mayor and later governor James Michael Curley, Malcolm X, and Sacco and Vanzetti. Today's guests receive a much warmer and more luxurious welcome.
The ultra-luxe, sprawling 298-room Liberty Hotel opened in 2007, fulfilling the wisecrack-turned-prophesy Babe Ruth uttered when he toured the place in 1925: 'This isn’t a jail, it’s a hotel.' The view upon entering is nothing short of awe-inspiring, with a sky-high atrium, catwalks, and original brick walls. What was once the drunk tank is now a hip bar named Alibi, adorned with mug shots of the rich and famous. Clink, a high-end yet laidback New-England-centric restaurant, is a destination for the foodie who likes a combination of delicious cuisine and eccentric surroundings.
This historic hotel harkens back when Tulsa glittered with new money and art deco glam © courtesy of the Curio Collection by Hilton
7. Tulsa Club: Tulsa, Oklahoma
In the 1920s, Tulsa was a boomtown. Oil had been discovered and people from all over the country arrived to build their fortune. As the city evolved, grand buildings were erected in keeping with the art deco style of the time. The Tulsa Club, which was built in 1927, was the city’s Chamber of Congress and over the course of several years, the upper stories became a members-only gentlemen’s club for the overworked employees, complete with dining rooms, a gym, and baths. It fell into disrepair and endured three fires in recent decades before opening as a luxury hotel in April 2019. The ornate exterior details and exquisite mosaics inside have all been preserved, as has the expansive marblework throughout. It’s an elegant throwback to the luxury of its time.
8. Hotel Henry: Buffalo, New York
The grand, imposing brick-and-red-sandstone Hotel Henry sits on 42 acres that comprise the Richard Olmsted Campus, a National Historic Landmark, in Buffalo. If you think that a semi-isolated urban building, surrounded by parks and lakes, is a perfect locale for anyone in need of a peaceful retreat, you'd be correct. This 88-room luxe resort occupies the building that was originally the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, which opened in 1880 but subsequently sat vacant after shuttering in 1974. The hoteliers have not changed much of the original design. The thoroughly modern guest rooms are spacious, particularly the suite with a 20-foot-high vaulted ceiling, and the broad hallways were designed to encourage patients to socialize. The chapel/entertainment venue now functions as an event space.