Given the success of Airbnb’s ask to “live like a local,” experience seems to carry more value to the leisure traveler than commodity these days; cultural immersion is all the rage. But if dirty bathtubs, stray hair on the pillow, TVs that don’t work, busted furniture, and the occasional Kramer-with-a-spare-key-charging-in-at-inopportune-moments are a little too local for your tastes (and if you left the cramming into chicken buses with nothing but a knapsack and a moleskin back in your early 20s), hotels with history offer a reliable-yet-unexpected sense of place.
A hotel’s past lives, full of ups and downs and tales of reinvention that perhaps latently remind us of ourselves (works in progress), have a deep sense of humanity about them. It’s the idea that we can inhabit these past lives for a night that draws us in, that connects us.
Here, six reinvented independent hotels:
Horton Grand Hotel
San Diego, CA
This stop-you-in-your-tracks, architectural gem first captures your attention, then your imagination. A good rule of thumb: if it has ghosts, it has history. And between a 19th century ruffian named Roger Whitaker and a madame named Ida Bailey, both longtime residents who are said to make their presence felt, Horton Grand has a patchwork past. In fact, Horton Grand is a union of two historic hotels.
Erected in the 1880s, The Grand Horton Hotel and the Brooklyn-Kahle Saddlery Hotel originally stood three blocks from Horton Grand’s current location. For nearly 100 years, the two hotels saw cowboys and outlaws, film and rodeo stars, sports heroes and politicians, but in the late 1970s the two old buildings, which had fallen to flophouse status, were scheduled for demolition to make way for a new mall and a parking lot. That is, until local historical preservation activists stepped in and spared the doomed structures from the wrecking ball.
Piece by piece, bay windows, banisters, iron railings, doors and door frames, exterior Victorian ornamentation, a giant split-oak staircase, and 82,000 bricks were carefully moved to the Gaslamp Quarter and reassembled into what stands today as the Horton Grand Hotel.
The Porches Inn
North Adams, MA
The thoughtful folks at The Porches Inn will deliver breakfast to your room in galvanized metal lunch boxes. And it’s not a matter of style over substance. For one, the breakfast is phenomenal. For two, like all towns supporting heavy industry, North Adams once relied on its factories to provide the jobs and sense of community that define a thriving city. And the lunch boxes are just one example of a highly intentional blend of history and hospitality. While the bathrobes and stacks of white towels come standard issue, the hair dryer comes in a burlap sack hung from a Shaker peg.
From working-class to creative-class, The Porches Inn consists of six Victorian row houses formerly occupied by mill workers, refreshed and painted in vibrant marigold, blue, salmon, red, green, and gray, connected by two long porches lined with rocking chairs that face across the Hoosic River to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
Like a lot of history in Texas, oil plays a role. The red neon Pegasus that soars above the Magnolia Hotel, the logo of Mobil Oil’s predecessor, the Magnolia Petroleum Co., kicked on for the first time at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000, a symbol of a bright future for Dallas, a celebratory reincarnation of the original rotating icon that stood from 1934 to 1999. When asked why the original consisted of two horses, Harold Wineburgh, owner of the Texlite sign company, said, “Dallas doesn’t want to be known as a one horse town.”
When the 29-story office tower opened in 1922, it was not only the tallest building in Texas, but also the tallest building west of the Mississippi and taller than any structure in Europe at the time. Today, among the modern amenities and sleek contemporary style, the building retains its gold-leafed, coffered ceilings and antique chandeliers, and the original brass Pegasus emblems have been handsomely preserved in the elevator doors.
The Cliff House at Pikes Peak
Manitou Springs, CO
Built in the winter of 1873, guests have been hanging their hats at The Cliff House longer than Colorado has been a state. What started as a stagecoach stop, a modest inn on the gold-miner’s trail from Colorado Springs to Leadville, quickly transformed into a lavish resort that capitalized on a health-based interest in the town’s ancient mineral springs. The naturally cool water came out of limestone aquifers with a high concentration of minerals. Native Americans had been drinking the stuff for hundreds of years for its healing powers.
By the 1920s, bellhops from the hotel were crossing the street to the spring to fill bottles and glasses with the sparkling water, shuttling them back to the guests. During the boom, the resort became a prime vacation destination for wealthy and famous guests including Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and F. W. Woolworth. Today, after a flood, a fire, and an economic climate that kept the property vacant for sixteen years, a $10.5 million renovation has brought this building back to its original luster.
Hotel @ The Lafayette
The year is 1904. Buffalo’s economy is booming, and its downtown stands at the forefront of a thriving future. Designed in the French Renaissance-style, the newly constructed Hotel Lafayette, ranking among the finest hotels in the country, is a microcosm of American ingenuity and optimism. But it, like the city it calls home, will eventually fall on hard times and slip into severe disrepair that will last decades.
The year is 2016. A $43 million rehabilitation project has restored the once-grand hotel to its original splendor, contributing to an architectural and social renaissance in downtown Buffalo. The new hotel flaunts its 1940s Art Moderne-style lobby, marble mosaic tile floors, two swank ballrooms with ornate columns and beautiful coffered ceilings, three restaurants and an ultra-vibe-y Art Deco-style bar.
Dunes on the Waterfront
“Growing up here, I’ve gotten to know families who have returned to see the sun rise over the dunes for generations.” –Aaron Perkins, Owner
When Perkins’ grandfather opened the first cottages in 1936, visitors often arrived by rail, their trunks in tow, and would taxi to the twelve acres of waterfront pastureland where they would stay for the summer. And aside from the paddle boards and Wifi, life at the Dunes hasn’t changed much since then. Slow games of croquette, screen-porch sitting with a good book, row-boating to a private beach for a sunny afternoon on Ogunquit’s white sand. Dunes on the Waterfront: the way life should be.
READ our first installation of Hotels With History.