Hotel Roanoke: Grand Old Lady on the Hill in Roanoke, VA

Historical Background of the Hotel Roanoke

Nestled in the heart of Roanoke, Virginia, the Hotel Roanoke is a testament to the rich history and architectural prowess of a bygone era. Constructed in 1882 by the Norfolk and Western Railway, the renowned Philadelphia architect George T. Pearson designed the original structure. The Tudor Revival style building officially opened on Christmas Day, symboling elegance and grandeur.

The early years of the hotel saw significant expansions and transformations. In 1890, the western side of the hotel saw the addition of a new main wing, replacing the central part of the original structure from 1882.

The disaster occurred in July 1898 when a fire ignited in the kitchen, consuming the second and third floors of the 1890 main wing. The hotel had to close for a few months but was restored, reopening its doors in January 1899.

In 1916, the final piece of the 1882 structure was relocated to the back of the hotel, clearing space for a new eastern wing. This significant addition, crafted by the local Roanoke firm Frye and Chesterman, signaled a fresh chapter for the hotel.

By 1931, the original 1882 wing was torn down and replaced, with the modest 1931 wing at the back, becoming the oldest part of the building still standing.

Transformations and Renovations

The Hotel Roanoke underwent a complete transformation in 1938. The main wing from 1890/1898 was torn down and supplanted by the existing central wing, adorned with a tower and housing the hotel’s lobby and communal areas. This new main wing was the creation of Knut W. Lind, working with the New York-based firm George B. Post and Sons, a company celebrated for their hotel designs nationwide.

In 1946 witnessed, the demolition of the 1916 east wing, replaced by a more expansive wing, the work of Small, Smith, and Reeb from Cleveland, Ohio. This firm also designed a minor addition at the back of the 1938 main wing 1954, shaping the hotel into the form recognized today.

These changes reflected the growing demand for luxury and comfort and the hotel’s commitment to staying at the forefront of hospitality.

1983 saw a significant event when employees of Hotel Roanoke went on strike for six months. The strike ended with the National Labor Relation Board ordering the reinstatement of 36 workers, finding their dismissal violated labor law. This episode marked a turning point in the hotel’s relationship with its staff and the community.

1995 the Hotel Roanoke was completely remodeled and restored at $28 million. A state-of-the-art conference center, costing $13 million, was erected right next to the hotel, and a pedestrian bridge was built to span Norfolk Southern’s railroad tracks, creating a connection between the hotel and downtown Roanoke. This marked a new era of prosperity and elegance for the hotel.

Hotel Roanoke
Hotel Roanoke” by Ben Schumin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

Ownership and Management

The ownership and management of the Hotel Roanoke have seen several changes over the years. Initially owned by the Norfolk and Western Railway, the hotel was later deeded to Virginia Tech for $65,000 in 1989. The hotel was closed after the flag-lowering ceremony on November 30, and the contents were sold.

The “Renew Roanoke” campaign was initiated in 1992 to gather funds to reopen the hotel. Despite being $1 million short by the late fall, a remarkable Christmas-time fundraising event collected $5 million. Norfolk Southern generously contributed an extra $2 million, 30 times more than they had received for the hotel.

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Undergoing a complete remodeling and restoration, the Hotel Roanoke reopened its doors on April 3, 1995, under the management of the DoubleTree chain. A significant transition occurred on February 28, 2016, when the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center shifted within Hilton from the DoubleTree to the Curio Collection by the Hilton brand, heralding a fresh era in the hotel’s distinguished history.

Famous Guests and Cultural Impact

Throughout its existence, Hotel Roanoke has played host to many famous guests. General Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and Nelson Rockefeller stayed there as vice presidents.

The Hotel Roanoke has been graced by six future US presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. In 1918, the hotel hosted a notable party comprising Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs. They were on their way north during a renowned camping excursion in the Southern USA.

Other celebrated guests include comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Kevin Hart, the rock band Aerosmith, and vocalist Wayne Newton. A landmark moment in the hotel’s history occurred in 1964 when Mahalia Jackson, the famed American gospel singer, became the first black guest, symbolizing a shift in societal norms. The hotel’s role in the community and its impact on local culture has made it a symbol of Roanoke’s heritage and identity.

Recent Developments and Future Prospects

The Hotel Roanoke continues to evolve, with ongoing elevator renovations from May to October 2023. These renovations reflect the hotel’s commitment to maintaining its elegance and charm. Recent additions like new adventure packages and culinary offerings by Chef Colin Lloyd have added to the hotel’s appeal.

Press releases from the hotel have highlighted new opportunities to discover, explore, and experience Virginia’s Blue Ridge. The hotel’s commitment to excellence and its plans for the future ensure that it remains a beacon of hospitality and elegance in Roanoke.

The hotel’s legacy is not just in its bricks and mortar but in the memories and experiences it has provided to countless guests and visitors. Its enduring presence in the heart of Roanoke continues to inspire nostalgia and excitement for the future.

Hotel Roanoke
Hotel Roanoke” by taberandrew is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Conclusion

The Hotel Roanoke stands as a grand old lady on the hill, symboling elegance, hospitality, and resilience. From its humble beginnings in 1882 to its current status as a luxurious hotel and conference center, its story is intertwined with the history of Roanoke itself.

Its transformations, renovations, ownership changes, and famous guests all contribute to a rich tapestry that tells the story of a community and a nation. The Hotel Roanoke’s enduring legacy continues to inspire and enchant, a testament to the timeless appeal of grace and charm.

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