History Lesson

Charming conference centers with a past

A little inspiration goes a long way. Some conference centers, despite their convenient package pricing and made-for-your-meeting specs, might lack the ambience that sets the mood for churning out big ideas. The following facilities meet all of the International Association of Conference Center's stringent criteria when it comes to A/V technology, catering, meeting room size, etc. -- while also adding the unique character of their storied histories to a meeting.

RoanokeHotel Roanoke and Conference Center, a Doubletree HotelRoanoke, Va.
Year of original opening: 1882
(540) 985-5900; hotelroanake.com

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this Tudor-style structure began as a wood-plank, 30-room inn surrounded by wheat fields back when Roanoke was known as the town of Big Lick. The inn grew in size and prestige as the town became a major railroad hub, until 1989, when the property was given to Virginia Tech and reopened in 1993 in its current incarnation, with 332 guest rooms and 65,000 square feet of meeting space.

Standing receptions of up to 1,350 people can be held in the Roanoke Ballroom, and the Crystal Ballroom can hold up to 450 people. A lecture hall, two outdoor courtyards, and 35 meeting rooms are also at planners' disposal. The center can coordinate with Virginia Tech's continuing education department to add training and educational components to a group's agenda. In 2008, a $6.5 million renovation of all guest rooms included new soft goods, fixtures, electronics and furnishings.
chaminadeChaminade Resort & SpaSanta Cruz, Calif.
Year of original opening: 1930
(800) 283-6569; chaminade.com

In breezy, laid-back Santa Cruz (aka Surf City), the 288-acre Chaminade Resort & Spa began life in the Great Depression as a Catholic school for boys and later became a retreat for priests before it was converted into a hotel and conference center in 1985. Last year, the property completed a $15 million renovation that included revamping all 156 guest rooms, public areas, meeting space, the restaurant and the lounge.

Among the resort's more atmospheric touches are private patios in some of the guest rooms, a gleaming new spa and hiking trails meandering among majestic redwood trees. Meeting space includes 12,000 square feet for events and 12 individual meeting rooms. Three 18-hole championship golf courses and an on-site ropes course provide plenty of team-building opportunities.

glen coveGlen Cove Mansion Hotel and Conference CenterGlen Cove, N.Y.
Year of original opening: 1910
(516) 671-6400; glencovemansion.com

This brick Georgian edifice on Long Island was built as the private estate of attorney and oil executive John Pratt and was turned into a hotel and conference center in the late 1960s. Today, the mansion sits on 55 acres and offers 187 guest rooms plus 25,000 square feet of meeting space, including 27 conference rooms, all outfitted with complete A/V setups. The property can accommodate up to 300 people indoors and up to 4,000 for outdoor tented events. Indoor and outdoor pools, racquetball, basketball and tennis courts, and walking trails round out the recreation offerings.





HighgateHighgate HouseNorthampton, U.K.
Year of original opening: 1663
(011) 44 (0)1604-731999;

About 60 miles northwest of London in Northampton, Highgate House is a complex of three historic homes that now serve as conference facilities. Built in the 17th century as a farmstead and inn, the property last year completed a $1.3 million project that revamped 30 of 98 guest rooms and added the Terrace Restaurant. In addition, the entire property recently made a major move to go green by converting to 100 percent hydropower to meet its energy needs.

Highgate house offers five dining rooms, 30 meeting rooms and event space for up to 200 people. The estate's 26 acres offer ample space for recreation such as tennis and croquet, and the on-site staff designs team-building programs for groups.

Off-site, the nearby Althorp House (hospitality.althorp.com), the late Princess Diana's former home and burial place, is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year and can accommodate corporate meetings, receptions and dinners.



graylynGraylyn International Conference CenterWinston-Salem, N.C.
Year of original opening: 1932
(800) 472-9596; graylyn.com

Currently owned and operated by nearby Wake Forest University, the Graylyn International Conference Center was built as a private home by a tobacco tycoon in the early part of the 20th century. The original 46,000-square-foot estate had 60 rooms and at one point served as a teaching facility for psychiatrists. The property was designated an IACC conference center in 1993.

Today, the estate offers 98 guest rooms and can accommodate buyouts for groups of  up to 200. A total of 25 meeting spaces is scattered throughout the 55-acre property, all with wireless Internet and full A/V capabilities. Planners have plenty of options here. Team-building and themed event choices include an on-site ropes course, scavenger hunts and "Carolina Pig Pickin' dinners" complete with a roasted suckling pig.

The conference center is run by nearby Wake Forest University, and the staff can set up coaches and professors as speakers and arrange for tickets to on-campus sporting events.

royal collegeThe Royal College of PhysiciansLondon, U.K.
Year of original opening: 1518
020-7034-4900; rcpevents.co.uk

The Royal College of Physicians is the oldest medical foundation in England -- the perfect setting for cutting-edge learning and training. The current home of the college dates from 1964 and was designed by Sir Denys Lasdun, a prominent English architect known for his modernist designs. Although the center does not offer sleeping rooms, at least five hotels are within walking distance of the facility, including the adjacent 581-room Meliá White House hotel.

Meeting space includes two theaters that seat up to 300 and 140 each, 20 meeting rooms plus full catering and banquet capabilities. In addition, the property offers guided tours of its architecture, history and medicinal gardens, as well as its Dorchester Library, which contains more than 50,000 books and manuscripts dating from the 16th century.