Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 148;
Hotel History: The Jefferson Hotel (1895), Richmond, Virginia*
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
Tobacco baron Lewis Ginter began building the Jefferson Hotel in 1892 and opened it in 1895. Designed by Carrѐre and Hastings, the same architecture firm that designed the New York Public Library, the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, Henry Flagler's Whitehall Mansion in Palm Beach, and many more.
As a centerpiece for the upper lobby, Ginter commissioned Richmond sculptor Edward V. Valentine to create a life-size statue of Thomas Jefferson from Carrara marble. Ginter imported exotic palm trees from Central and South America and purchased hundreds of valuable antiques. The hotel opened on Halloween in 1895 for the engagement party of Charles Dana Gibson and Irene Langhorne, better known as the Gibson Girl.
In 1901, a fire demolished three-fifths of the building. One hundred guestrooms fronting on Franklin Street were intact and reopened in May 1902, but major reconstruction was required in the portion facing Main Street and the hotel languished for several more years. Then, in 1905, the furniture and accessories were replaced with marbleized columns and Edwardian and Rococo touches added. The Grand Staircase and the Mezzanine, both formerly enclosed behind arched walls, were opened and the hotel expanded to include 330 new rooms in addition to the 100 remaining from the original structure. In May 1907 the enlarged hotel was reopened.
During World War II, the hotel lodged transient U.S. Army recruits. The stained-glass skylights and windows were taken down not only to conform to blackout requirements but also to prevent breakage from empty bottles tossed by the rowdy crowds. In March 1944, another fire broke out and soon after the war ended a gradual decline set in. By 1980, the hotel was closed to everyone except the occasional moviemaker.
After acquisition by the New York-based Sybedon Corporation, renovation began in 1983 and three years, and $34 million, later the hotel was reopened on May 6, 1986. Old paint was removed from walls to reveal mahogany paneling and from exterior columns to uncover pure marble. Hand-carved fireplace mantels, ornate ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, writing tables, and assorted bric-a-brac were cleaned, polished, and restored.
On July 2, 1991, the Jefferson was sold to Historic Hotels, Inc., a Richmond-based group of investors. In the next year, a multi-million dollar renovation began, which included redecoration of all guestrooms and suites, the Rotunda and the Palm Court, enhanced parking, and improved amenities. The hotel's 262 guestrooms and suites come in 57 different styles, all outfitted with high ceilings, large windows, and custom furnishings. A full-service health club is on-site, and the Jefferson Hotel also boasts one of Richmond's finest restaurants, Lemaire.
Among the list of celebrities and notable guests who have visited here are 12 U.S. Presidents, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Charlie Chaplin, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Anthony Hopkins, Whoopi Goldberg, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Gertrude Stein, General John J. Pershing, Marshall Foch, William Jennings Bryan, and Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes.
For many guests and visitors, the dramatic 36-step polished marble staircase has been the cynosure of all eyes. Since the film classic "Gone With the Wind" was allegedly filmed on the Jefferson Hotel staircase, it is hard to stand at the base without visualizing Rhett Butler carrying Scarlett O'Hara up those stairs.
The Jefferson Hotel is one of only 27 American hotels with both the AAA Five-Diamond and the Forbes Five-Star ratings.
*excerpted from my book Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (AuthorHouse 2013)
About Stanley Turkel, CMHS
Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.
Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by The New York Times. His fourth hotel book was described by The New York Times: "Nostalgia for the City's caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel's...fact-filled...Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf."
Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi is available for purchase from the publisher by visiting bookstore.authorhouse.com.