Inspiring the American Experience, Historic Hotels within Teneo’s Growing Portfolio Shape 21st Century Meetings & Events
Eden Prairie, MN, July 2017 … A Beaux Arts mansion where John Jacob Astor and F. Scott Fitzgerald once wined and dined. The Residence of Presidents including Lincoln, Grant, and JFK. A Pacific palace where royalty rested and film stars frolicked on the beach. Lavish symbols of Old Florida when the Twenties roared and the Jazz Age played. A splendid salute to the Old South with a famous flock of ducks parading daily in the lobby.
America’s past is present in these historic hotels that span the United States from Boston’s Back Bay to San Francisco’s Nob Hill. Once dazzling symbols of the country’s cultural, political and social history, some of these iconic hotels fell upon tough times as fortunes were made and lost and neighborhoods fell from social grace. Today, thanks to responsible and painstaking restoration programs and billions of dollars in investments, these pink palaces, proud towers, colonial manors and ornate mansions are no longer fading relics of bygone days. Splendidly restored to their glory, they are highly relevant in a new era of hospitality. As independent and small brand properties, they offer maximum opportunities to professional planners and their conferees for unique, memorable, one-of-a-kind meeting and event experiences.
“In this new era, authenticity, originality and a unique guest experience are essential to the success of a meeting or event,” says Mike Schugt, president of Teneo Hospitality Group, the premier global firm representing 300+ independent and luxury branded hotels, resorts and DMCs. “A historic hotel, renovated and equipped with the latest technology, delivers on all counts. Today’s planners and guests demand a singular venue, a commitment to authenticity and the most current technology. A historic hotel can provide all those elements to create a productive, memorable meeting. Often independently owned and operated, historic hotels are less bound by strict corporate policies and enjoy greater flexibility and creative freedom,” Schugt notes.
Teneo Hospitality Group’s members include more than a dozen historic hotels in the United States, several of them are designated as national landmarks. These properties have undergone extensive and expensive renovations that expanded public spaces and added new facilities while staying within the strict parameters set by local and national conservation bodies. All have installed new, state-of-the-art technology to meet both the needs of conference planners and guests and to operate on a highly sustainable level in every aspect of hotel services.
Teneo members also include Destination Management Companies in the same areas, which can enhance the historic hotel experience with original, exciting programs that showcase the best of each area’s storied past and dynamic present. Set sail on an America’s Cup yacht over Newport Harbor, tour California wine country, and dance in a Victorian ballroom overlooking the Pacific where King Edward VIII once waltzed.
Many of Teneo’s historic hotels played a key role in political life as well as the social scene. The Willard InterContinental Washington, DC, was a political hot spot from its earliest days as a restaurant and collection of boarding houses. The hotel first opened in 1847 on Pennsylvania Avenue, just steps from the White House and over the years hosted every president from Franklin Pierce to JFK, earning its name “The Residence of Presidents.” By 1860, The Willard was the center of debate over secession and Unionists and Secessionists were so divided they entered the building via separate doors. In 1901, a new and ultra-luxurious Willard was built, and it was brilliantly restored in the 1980s. It now stands as one of America’s most prestigious hotels. Another fabled Washington, DC hotel, The Hay Adams, emerged in Italian Renaissance splendor in the 1920s, on the site of two town houses once owned by prominent Washingtonians John Hay and Henry Adams. In a nod to the hotel’s Jazz Age roots the Hay Adams maintains an exclusive “speakeasy”, Off the Record, a favorite of DC insiders.
As great fortunes were made in the 1920s, newly minted tycoons built fabulous hotels. Florida was a favorite destination of the rich and many flocked to the “Pink Palace”, the Don CeSar in St. Petersburg. Also true to the era, The Biltmore Miami Coral Gables maintained a speakeasy and card game on the 13th floor.
Prohibition yielded some of America’s most iconic cocktails and historic hotels were up to the challenge of masking the harsh taste of illegal alcohol available during Prohibition. French 75s, Sidecars, Southside’s and Old Fashioned all flowed freely. Today, they are back on the bar menu and a favorite of Millennial guests and nostalgic drinkers, alike.
Farm-to-table dining can be traced to Boston’s lauded Omni Parker House, which in the 1850s boasted its own farm to supply guests and diners with the freshest ingredients, including butter for their famous Parker House Rolls. A literary hub for New England’s most famous writers, The Omni Parker House also hosted Charles Dickens where he recited and performed, A Christmas Carol, reading it to a rapt audience of Boston literary lions. The hotel’s kitchen once employed two famous political leaders: Ho Chi Minh was a baker there and Malcolm X, a busboy. Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse worked as a sous chef before setting out for New Orleans.
Hoteliers in San Francisco, inspired by the city’s steep hills and stunning views, forged the concept of the Rooftop Bar and none is more famous than The Top of the Mark at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins. The hotel was built by a railroad magnate in 1926, and the bar and restaurant added in 1939.
Opulent, Beaux-Arts architecture appealed to the tycoons of the era who were investing in new hotels. Examples of this lavish style are found in New York’s recently relaunched The Knickerbocker Hotel, once a palatial property owned by JP Morgan and now born again as an elegant Times Square hotel. The Willard InterContinental Washington D.C., Boston Park Plaza and Sir Francis Drake and Stanford Court in San Francisco have preserved the elaborate ornamentation, bannisters, balconies, columns, cornices, pilasters and triangular pediments that mark this extravagant architectural style.
Equally rich appointments can be found in the Italian Renaissance style of The Peabody Memphis. First opened in 1869 and reconstructed in 1925, the impeccably restored hotel is a hub of the city’s business and social life. Each day, the legendary Peabody Ducks march through the lobby and swim in its fountain to the delight of guests.
In Nashville, The Hermitage Hotel took the Beaux Arts and Italian Renaissance styles to new and extravagant levels. Opened in 1910, the hotel featured marble floors, walls and columns as well as ornate ornamental plasterwork. The original chandeliers still hang from the lobby’s spectacular painted glass ceiling. Guestrooms were paneled in mahogany and equipped with such “new features” as running ice water and a telephone. U.S. presidents from William Howard Taft to President Bush visited the hotel, as did Charlie Chaplin, Babe Ruth and Country Music legends from Hank Williams and Patsy Cline to Johnny Cash.
Another famous historic property, The American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin, had a humble beginning as a residence for immigrant workers recruited by the Kohler Company, makers of bath and plumbing fixtures. The elegant Tudor building once contained a pub and a bowling alley for the residents. Today, it is one of America’s premier resorts with a championship golf course and the Kohler Experiential Learning Center, noted for its teambuilding and leadership programs.
The Hotel Viking in Newport, Rhode Island, sits on the city’s premier address, Bellevue Avenue, along which New York’s fabled “400” built their spectacular “summer cottages.” Its graceful architecture and newly renovated interiors recall Newport’s Colonial days as a thriving seaport and later as a yachting center. Built in 1926, The Viking is named for a band of Norsemen who may or may not have established a colony in Newport in 1120. They are said to have built a mysterious stone tower near the hotel that still stands.
Hoteliers accept major challenges and responsibilities in managing a historic property. Maintaining the hotel, meeting rigorous requirements from local, state and federal preservation bodies, operating with an elevated level of sustainable practices while incorporating 21st century technology demands commitment and creativity. In some cases, that obligation extends to the land surrounding the hotel. At Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, the hotel meticulously maintains its stunning Pacific beachfront, a favorite spot for parties, teambuilding, and top-flight entertainment. In Pennsylvania, the Omni Bedford Springs Resort, dating back to 1796 and set amidst the Allegheny mountains, preserves ancient hot springs that first drew the likes of America’s Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams took the waters here, and the springs still feed the hotel swimming pool, one of the nation’s first, where musicians once played while hotel guests swam.
Despite the challenges and initial expense, a historic hotel is an excellent long-term investment, according to Darrell Tamosuinas, Teneo’s CEO. “These buildings were constructed to last and retain a level of craftsmanship and architectural authenticity not being built today,” Mr. Tamosuinas says. “They recall a time when Americans were on the move, building, exploring, creating and incorporating the best of the Old World with the energy and vision of the New, and today provide a destination experience unlike any other.”
That experience is enhanced by state-of-the-art-technology and embraced by a new generation. Thanks to committed hoteliers and investors, we can again imagine the glamour of a Gilded Age when princes and presidents, moguls and movie stars dined, danced, dealt and forged America’s history. These immersions into the best of the past while leaping forward into the 21st century are uniquely available to professional planners and their conferees at historic properties. As independent and boutique brand hotels and resorts, they offer unlimited opportunities for one-of-a-kind meeting, group teambuilding and event experiences.