December 01, 1997
Meetings & Conventions: Coming Of Age December 1997 Current Issue
December 1997
Coming Of Age

Experience the grandeur of bygone days at these historic hotels


Seventeenth-century opulence: The Castle Suite at Le Pavilion Hotel, New Orleans.

In the hospitality business, older can be better. New properties certainly have their appeal, but a true sense of grandeur only comes with time. Across the country, from bustling cities to colonial hamlets, are historic hotels -- carefully renovated, faithfully restored, and sometimes renamed. The following properties, all members of Historic Hotels of America, offer groups something more than just room, lodging and meeting space -- they let guests experience a slice of an earlier America.

The Admiral Fell Inn
Baltimore, Md.
Guest rooms: 80
Meeting space: Six meeting rooms
Phone: (410) 522-7377; (800) 292-INNS
Fax: (410) 522-0707

If the eight different buildings that make up the Admiral Fell Inn could talk, they would speak volumes. Named for Quaker Edward Fell, who arrived in Baltimore in 1726, the inn's historic buildings, some dating to the 1780s, are a composite of the area's rich port history. At various times they operated as a boarding house for sailors, distilling plant and YMCA hotel.

Each guest room is individually decorated in elegant Federal period furnishings. The English-style pub harkens to the town's early watering holes, with brass candleholders and port scenes adorning the walls.

The inn's elegant Sea Witch restaurant has a 200-year-old legend of its own. Here, a raven-haired lass named Emil sold herbs and fortunes until she died of a broken heart when her young sailor husband was lost at sea.

To capture the essence of historic Fell's Point, groups can take part in the inn's weekly two-hour walking tours, which amble past tug boats, docks, antique shops, galleries and pubs. Or, for a glimpse of modern history, visitors might opt for the Homicide tour. The popular TV show, filmed entirely on location in Baltimore, is headquartered in Fell's Point.

The Equinox
Manchester Village, Vt.
Guest rooms: 183
Meeting space: 10 meeting rooms
Phone: (802) 362-4700; (800) 362-4747
Fax: (802) 362-1595

In 1769, The Equinox was a simple, two-story wooden building known as the Marsh Tavern, and the secret meeting place of a local group of American revolutionaries known as the Green Mountain Boys. More than 200 years and several expansions later, meetings are still being held here -- just not secretly.

Set on 2,300 acres, 900 of which are protected lands, The Equinox, now a National Historic Landmark, is an oasis of New England tradition and hospitality. The main house is furnished with antiques, Audubon prints, period wallpaper designs and canopied four-poster beds. Guests choose from four restaurants, including the original Marsh Tavern, now the main dining room.

Small groups can take over the 1812 Charles Orvis Inn, the former home of Charles F. Orvis, the fly-fishing entrepenuer. This carefully restored New England home features nine one- and two-bedroom suites (each with a fireplace, kitchen and dining room), private check-in, concierge, butler and valet services, an oak-paneled billiard room and a boardroom (the original Orvis library) that seats 15. Each suite is decorated with fly-fishing paraphernalia, much of it borrowed from the nearby American Museum of Fly Fishing.

Unique group activities include hands-on lessons at the British School of Falconry, where participants learn handling and hunting skills; and off-road, four-wheel driving lessons at the Land Rover Driving School, the British company's first U.S. school.

More traditional options such as golf, fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, hiking and skiing are also available. And not to be missed in historic Manchester Village: the 24-room summer mansion of Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's son.

The Georgian Hotel
Santa Monica, Calif.
Guest rooms: 84
Meeting space: Four meeting rooms
Phone: (310) 395-9945
Fax: (310) 451-3374

When the Georgian Hotel first opened in 1933, hip Santa Monica was still a little-known seaside community, Prohibition was in full swing and the Big Screen was big business.

For many movie executives, up-and-coming celebrities and other characters of the era -- Clark Gable, Fatty Arbuckle, Bugsy Siegel and Carol Lombard -- the Georgian (then called the Lady Windemere) was the rendezvous of choice. The hotel's hidden oceanfront verandah operated as a racy speakeasy.

Today, fresh from a recent $5 million renovation, the turquoise and gold Art Deco structure dominates Ocean Avenue. But, its spirit -- that of a classic beach hotel -- remains intact. Guest room windows still open to catch the ocean breezes, and the atmosphere is intimate and laid-back. A pink, yellow and green Art Deco decor hints at the glamour of Hollywood's Golden Age, as do nostalgic touches like the original elevator, complete with an elevator operator.

While the restaurant is only open for breakfast, the hotel will arrange outside catering for lunch, dinner and all breaks for groups. Or, groups might opt to dine off-site at area restaurants, many of which are within walking distance.

Hotel Jerome
Aspen, Colo.
Guest rooms: 93
Meeting space: Eight meeting rooms
Phone: (970) 920-1000; (800) 331-7213
Fax: (970) 544-0260

It was 1889 and Colorado was enjoying a silver boom. Local mine owner Jerome B. Wheeler decided it was high time the town had a luxury hotel. On Thanksgiving eve of that same year, the Hotel Jerome debuted to an admiring public. Melodic violin music greeted guests and smart bellhops in gold-braided uniforms escorted them through the lobby, with its towering cathedral glass ceiling. Fifteen bathrooms boasted hot and cold plumbing (a nice change from the town's icy outhouses), a French chef headed up the kitchen and a German horticulturist manned the hothouse. All this for $3 to $4 a night.

But during the Great Depression and World War II, the property slipped into the role of frumpy boarding house and eventually fell into complete neglect. Then, in 1984 a group of investors bought the property and began an ambitious renovation, painstakingly restoring every detail.

Today, the Hotel Jerome is a living museum -- a freeze-frame of Aspen's wealthy mining days, when silver transformed the city's image from that of a tented frontier town on the edge of civilization to one of newfound comfort, wealth and prosperity.

No two guest rooms are alike. Period antiques, custom-made wallpapers, cherry wood doors, paneling, crocheted bed coverings and ornate fireplaces create an atmosphere of splendor and elegance. Private dinners or cocktails are held in the opulent Jerome B. Wheeler Room, where French crystal chandeliers, brocade chairs and gold leaf detail set the tone. Larger groups can gather in the Century Room, decorated with Italian tapestries, cloisonné chandeliers, gilded mirrors and richly upholstered burgundy velvet chairs.

For more casual affairs, the sunny Garden Lobby is decorated with old photographs of legendary Aspenites and mining camps, along with potted palms, overstuffed Victorian-style sofas and an antique Steinway baby grand piano.

Le Pavillon Hotel
New Orleans, La.
Guest rooms: 226
Meeting space: Seven meeting rooms
Phone: (504) 581-3111; (800) 535-9095
Fax: (504) 522-5543

Originally named the New Hotel Denechaud, Le Pavillon Hotel opened to much fanfare and international acclaim on Jan. 14, 1907. Wealthy socialites, prominent businessmen and politicians crowded its immense dining room. They feasted on Louisiana delicacies and champagne and admired the hand-tiled mosaic floor, wall murals, silk draperies and 24-karat gold leaf overlay on columns and ceilings.

For decades the hotel enjoyed immense acclaim, until it slowly fell into disrepair and was eventually abandoned. In 1970, five local businessmen rescued the hotel from demolition and launched a meticulous restoration.

Today, Le Pavillon is an even grander version of its former self. Much of the original furniture and artwork was retrieved, and European and American antiques grace hallways, rooms and public areas. Elaborate hand-cut Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers and early 20th-century European furnishings and rugs decorate the main lobby. The ceiling of the dining room, now called the Crystal Room, sports miniature hand-painted vignettes of American country scenes. The Board Room is an elegant blend of cherry wood, leather club chairs and period wallpaper.

VIPs will enjoy the Plantation Suite, an authentic reproduction of an 18th-century Louisiana plantation master's bedroom. Or, opt for the undiluted opulence of the 17th-century Castle Suite, where a handcarved Brazilian rosewood mantle, brought from a 17th-century Scottish castle, graces the fireplace, and the bathroom sports a cast-iron tub that once belonged to Napoleon.

The Menger Hotel
San Antonio, Texas
Guest rooms: 318
Meeting space: 13 meeting rooms
Phone: (210) 223-4361; (800) 345-9285
Fax: (210) 223-1328

Twenty-three years after the fall of the Alamo, the Menger Hotel welcomed its first guests -- politicians, writers, generals, cattle barons and socialites -- who came from all across America. Oscar Wilde sipped spiked lemonade in the garden, Teddy Roosevelt hunkered down at the famous cherry wood bar (an exact replica of London's House of Lords pub), Sidney Lanier entertained fellow guests with flute recitals; and General Robert E. Lee rode his mount, Traveller, through the hotel lobby.

One hundred thirty-eight years later, the hotel is a National Historic Landmark. Its original 50-room two-story structure has evolved into a rambling cornerstone of San Antonio history, rich in architectural detail, antiques and local lore. But some things remain the same: Mango ice cream, made from mango trees planted in the hotel's gardens, is still a menu staple, and patrons are still drawn to the cherry wood bar and the magnificent Victorian lobby, with its enormous Corinthian columns.

And meetings business goes on. In 1871, General William Sherman and several other generals celebrated the Union victory here. In 1877, railroad executives gathered to welcome the arrival of the railroad to San Antonio. And in 1905, Texas patriot Clara Driscoll, credited with singlehandedly saving the Alamo from demolition, hosted the season's most magnificent debutante ball.

Groups can meet in some of the same historic rooms: the Renaissance Room, with its Victorian furnishings and ornate chandeliers hanging from a decorative, 16-foot plaster ceiling; or the 1912 Colonial Room Restaurant, with its neoclassic design. Several guest rooms, too, have been faithfully maintained with original furnishings. *


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