As a historic city San Antonio had a decent amount of older homes and buildings in the center of the city.
The King William Historic District is just south of downtown. It has a great collection of restaurants and shops, but the highlights are the beautiful old houses.
As we reached downtown we passed by a couple great old buildings.
A classic clock, which we appear to have caught at high noon.
Nix Hospital s housed in a very fine example of an Art Deco building.
There are still a couple vintage theaters in town.
The Post Office and Court House is located across the plaza from the Alamo.
The Tower Life Building was completed in 1927. This eight sided classic Art Deco skyscraper also housed San Antonio’s first Sears store when first opened.
The Drury Hotel occupies the former Alamo National Bank building. Located along the famed Riverwalk the 24 floor building has many impressive details in the lobby.
We chose instead to stay at the Gunter Hotel, another great old hotel.
The Gunter Hotel is famous for being the location that blues legend Robert Johnson recorded most of the 29 songs he ever recorded. The bar celebrates the fact that he recorded in room 414, by calling themselves the Bar 414.
Despite the fact that Robert was from Mississippi, he was brought to San Antonio by a talent scout for Vocalion Record, Ernie Oertle. A producer from the label, Don Law, set up a recording studio in room 414 and 413 of the Gunter Hotel.
The drawing below is from an album cover of Robert’s music that was re-released in the 1960s depicting this recording session.
This is the room today, with the small white chair in the corner where Robert was sitting, facing the wall for the acoustics. How do I know this? This was our room for the night!!!
When we arrived every cushion was turned on end, every drawer was open. I immediately assumed it was Robert welcoming us! We spent the night hanging out listening to Robert’s music, either his original or the hundreds of covers from the Stones, Clapton and others.
Cleveland has notoriously been divided into two side, the East Side and West Side, separated by the Cuyahoga River. As a promotional campaign the local tourism board was sponsoring an event called ‘Tourist in Your Hometown – Crossing the River’. As part of this campaign they were offering a guided ‘hike’ around downtown checking out old buildings that have been restored and re purposed as hotels.
Our tour started out on the Mall outside of the old Cleveland Board of Education Building, now a Drury Hotel.
Designed by Cleveland architects Walker and Weeks, the building was completed in 1903 as part of the Group Plan. This plan designed a number of public buildings around green space in the middle of the city (The Mall).
The building’s exterior has a number of classic features.
The lobby features two murals by Cora Holden. Completed in 1931 the murals feature historical greats.
One of the first large scale redevelopment of a classic old building into a hotel was the venerable Arcade. In 2001 Hyatt Hotels restored the building to this fantastic state. While I have featured the Arcade in previous postings, you can never get enough of this elegant building.
A close up of the clocks and some of the railings.
Even the light poles have amazing detail.
The Guardian Bank Building was completed in 1896 as Cleveland’s tallest building – towering 221 feet above Euclid Avenue. Designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge it was remodeled by Walker & Weeks in 1939, giving that firm a hand in the first 3 buildings we toured.
Today it has been restored into a Holiday Inn Express, as well as private apartments and the office of an interactive agency called Rosetta.
As with many of the old buildings, the ceilings are amazing. The building was funded by President Garfield’s sons, Harry and James.
One interesting feature of the tours were actors portraying historic Cleveland people. For the morning portion of the tour we met Garrett Morgan.
Garrett was an amazing person, born in Kentucky in the late 1800s he came to Cleveland in his teens where he started working on sewing machines. Having learned about machines, he went on to develop the modern traffic light as well as a breathing apparatus that was successfully used by Garrett and his brother to save more than 30 miners who were trapped under Lake Erie in a fire.
Our morning tour ended at the Metropolitan at 9, a hotel that is a building that was built in the 1970s. While normally that wouldn’t qualify it as historic, they bypassed that rule since it is attached to the Cleveland Trust Rotunda building.
We visited the basement vaults that have been restored into a bar, complete with a demonstration of their signature flaming drink.
The afternoon portion of the tour started out at the Schofield Building. Now restored into a Kimpton Hotel, the building was completed in 1901.
The building was restored in 2013 with 122 hotel rooms and 52 apartments.
The lobby is simple yet elegant.
Our tour took us up to an 11th floor room with a great view down Euclid Avenue.
As well as the Cleveland Trust Rotunda across East 9th Street.
Our last stop was in the Colonial and Euclid Arcades, where a Residence Inn is now located.
The Colonial Arcade was completed in 1898, running the distance between Euclid Avenue and Prospect Avenue. While not as grand as the Arcade, it is still an impressive space.
It was here we met John D Rockefeller, who at times would’ve stayed at the Colonial Hotel, the original hotel in the Colonial Arcade. Rockefeller was the richest person of all time – in 2018 dollars he was once worth over $400 billion dollars. Today’s richest people (Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates) are worth around $100 billion.
The Historic Hotel Tours were a nice way to spend the day, they gave us some tchotchkes, some munchies and even a free drink! The guide was very knowledgeable and informative, and the entire event was free.
Our second Chicago Architecture Foundation tour of the day was ‘Hotel Boom – Making Old New Again’. It focused on the current trend of adaptive reuse, taking old buildings that may or may not have previously been hotels, and updating them as boutique hotels.
As with our first tour we headed south on Michigan Avenue, stopping across the street from the Chicago Athletic Association Building.
The CAA members were the movers and shakers of Chicago in 1893 as the World’s Fair was going on. Anxious to impress their out of town visitors, they engaged Henry Ives Cobb to build them a building rivaling anything that anyone would find in the great cities of the world. One would have to agree they did!
In 2015 the building was remodeled into the aforementioned boutique hotel style, as the club membership had dwindled. The results are one of function, but retaining most of the original look and feel.
The upstairs game room features the Chicago Athletic Association logo. Look familiar – it should as the Chicago Cubs bought the rights to use it in the 1800s.
As we made our way to the next stop we passed the Reliance Building. Designed by John Root in 1890 it remained a commercial property until the late 1990s when it was rehabbed into a boutique hotel.
As part of the Chicago School of Architecture it has the famed bay windows throughout.
On nearby Wabash Avenue is the Silversmith Hotel, so named as it is in the restored Silversmith Building on Jeweler Row. The architect, Peter Weber of the Burnham Architectural Firm, completed the design in 1896.
While it is an early example of the Chicago School of Architecture, the remodel has added modern elements to it (the exterior is required to remain ‘original’ per the Historic Registry requirements).
As we made our way back up Wabash we passed the Virgin Hotel Building, another re purposed building. Unfortunately we were unable to explore the interior.
The Chicago Motor Club Building was famously designed and completed in only 265 days in 1928. It is regarded as one of the finest Art Deco buildings in Chicago. The Motor Club used the building for office until 1986, and others used it for commercial use until 1996.
It sat vacant for many years before Hampton Inn (of all corporations) restored the building into a boutique hotel.
The lobby retains the Art Deco look.
A famed 1928 mural of the United States road system adorns one wall. Since the 1926 directive to give roads numbers was not quite implemented yet, this mural still uses the historic ‘trails’ designations such as the Lincoln Highway, etc.
The spiral staircase continues the Art Deco feel. For a company mostly known for small motels along freeways Hampton Inn really came through with this one.
Across the river, and in a different planet from a hotel room price perspective is The Langham. Often cited as one of Chicago’s priciest hotels, the Langham occupies a portion of the famed Ludwig Miles van der Rohe’s famed IBM Building.
It has a mid century meets gaudy feel.
Our final stop was the London House Hotel. The unusual name comes from the building’s original owners, the London Guarantee Company, an insurance company.
It is situated on the site of Fort Dearborn, the first settlement of any kind in what is now Chicago. As such a sculpture of the fort graces the entrance.
The traditional entrance has an impressive ceiling that amazing was covered up for 50 years by a drop ceiling.
Completed in 1923, it was topped with a cupola made to resemble the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates,
The view from the 21st floor outdoor bar is fantastic.
Earlier in the day, and totally unrelated to any of these posts we visited the 9th floor Winter Garden of the Harold Washington Library. It is not historic, but is cool.
Our night ended up with our cool view from the 23rd floor of the hotel down Kinzie Street toward the Wrigley Building, Tribune Building and others.
Our good luck with the Chicago Architecture Foundation tours continued. While the docents all have their unique approach, and you might pass by or go inside a building you have previously seen, you always learn something new. We are looking forward to more tours.
Smithfield Church – The church was completed in 1927, at the corner of Smithfield Street and Strawberry Way.
The church was built by the German Evangelical Protestant Church, and has German sayings throughout.
As with the other downtown churches, the Smithfield Church has an impressive organ.
As well as the stained glass.
The HYP Club – The Harvard, Yale, Princeton Club of Pittsburgh has a small 2 floor building surrounded by skyscrapers.
The Alcoa Building towers over it’s neighbor.
The interior itself was nice, but not noteworthy. We did have an enjoyable conversation with one of the hostesses, learning much about the club – which interesting is no longer restricted to just alumni of Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
Pittsburgh Engineers Building – Daniel Burnham’s first Pittsburgh building was the 1899 Union Trust Company. Built in 1899 for Andrew Mellon and Henry Clay Frick, it was noteworthy for it’s safe.
The bank left long ago, but the safe is still there.
The Engineering Society of Pittsburgh has taken over the building, and has a club/restaurant that celebrates the engineering of Pittsburgh, with an emphasis on the bridges.
William Penn Hotel – The William Penn Hotel, a classic old school hotel, was opened in 1916. Over the years it has hosted many famous people, including numerous presidents.
Situated along Grant Street, it has long been the center of society in Pittsburgh.
The main lobby.
The lower level has the famous Speakeasy Bar, so named because of it’s reputation during prohibition.
The hotel has a collection of artifacts including Lawernce Welk’s first bubble machine (for those too young google or youtube Lawrence Welk)
The Pennsylvanian – While it was officially called Union Station, the major train station at the corner of Liberty and Grant was always more commonly known as Penn Station, as the only railroad it served was the Pennsylvania Railroad
Designed by Daniel Burnham it went into service in 1901.
As you approach the station you are greeted by a great rotunda that was once used by carriages arriving and departing.
The ceiling of the rotunda is one of the master pieces of the city, and of Daniel Burnham’s career.
The rotunda is worth a number of looks…
Immediately inside is a smaller room that greeted passengers.
The Main Hall, with it’s high ceilings and skylights, continue to impress people today. After the buildings restoration in the 1980s to apartments, this hall has been used for functions like weddings and meetings.
Original benches from the station era are still used in this hall.
Detailed carvings are throughout.
The skylights open up the lower level to natural lighting, despite the fact that the entire building rises another 10 floors around and above them.
Another classic public clock.
On this day they were also offering tours of one of the apartments.
From the 4th floor hallway you had a better look above the skylights at the higher floors of the building
As with most of the other historic buildings in town, the Pennsylvanian has a great mailbox.