When my husband Bart and I travel, we have a few requirements from the hotels we choose. I like breakfast to be included with our stay, and my husband expects a pool. I learned early in our marriage that these are non-negotiable items. Bart loves to swim and wants to be able to do so no matter where we vacation. And I enjoy leisurely weekend breakfasts catching up with my family over food I don’t have time to prepare during the week. Because vacation is like an extended weekend, I think breakfast is the perfect way to start each day. Then, of course, Bart and I expect clean and quiet rooms, comfortable beds, privacy, security and a great location. These necessities easily can be found at many mid-priced hotel brands.
However, if you ask either of us what our favorite hotel stay has been since being married, we’d tell you it was a hotel that didn’t have a pool or complimentary breakfast (though it did have our other requirements). Our favorite stay was at the Historic Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, Iowa. Opened to the public in 1910, it is the last-remaining hotel in the world designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. After serving Mason City in varying capacities, the building was abandoned for more than 30 years before a committed group of citizens obtained funding (about $20 million) and restored it to its original purpose. (Read the story in retrofit’s March-April 2015 issue.)
The novelty of staying in a Wright-designed space was not lost on us. We truly enjoyed the historic aspects of the hotel and our room, and we were impressed with the hotel’s 21st century amenities, like heated bathroom floors. We loved socializing with Mason City locals in the bar, and Bart says the hotel’s restaurant, 1910 Grille, served him one of the best steaks he has had in his life. What the Historic Park Inn Hotel has that can’t be replicated in a new building is character and history, and that’s why we remember our stay so clearly and why we keep telling people about the hotel (and hope to go back).
This issue of retrofit is full of similar hospitality venues, the kind that inspire and delight while encouraging visitors to learn about a community’s past and invest in its future. For example, the Foundation Hotel, Detroit, combines two adjacent historic buildings—one of which originally was the headquarters for the city of Detroit Fire Department—into a 95,000-square-foot, 100-key boutique hotel along with a bar and restaurant. Although there are many compelling adaptive-reuse projects in Detroit, this one stands out and that’s why it’s our “Cover Story”.
Not every retrofit can take place in a building as interesting as a former firehouse; therefore, building owners and designers understand the value of incorporating unique objects in their building projects and telling stories with these objects. Robert Nieminen, retrofit ’s contributing editor, writes in “Trend Alert” that the movement toward handcrafted items in today’s buildings is underscoring “appreciation for artistry and craftsmanship that adds another dimension to interiors” to, likely, balance the technology that is ever-present in our buildings and our lives.
Although escaping technology isn’t easy, even in today’s most comfortable, home-away-from-home hospitality venues, the mid-priced hotel brands now are offering a richer, more historic experience to those travelers who want to remain loyal to specific chains. For example, Hilton’s Curio Collection includes refurbished historic hotels and retrofitted buildings in locations around the world. I think it would be nice if upon check-in, the front-desk agent handed a weary traveler a warm chocolate-chip cookie while explaining how to log onto the Wi-Fi. To someone like me, who makes food an important part of vacation, that’s way more memorable—and comforting.