21c Museum Hotel Durham by MGallery

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Discover the 21c Museum Hotel Durham by MGallery, which was once the historic Hill Building of the Durham Bank & Trust Company.

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21c Museum Hotel Durham by MGallery, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2019, dates back to 1937.

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The history of the 21c Museum Hotel Durham dates back to North Carolina’s historic tobacco industry. While tobacco had ceased being a profitable cash crop in most of the American South by the early 1900s, it had remained a lucrative business throughout much of North Carolina. Many of the state’s small, rustic communities began evolving into bustling commercial centers, with countless tobacco factories quickly dotting the landscape. The City of Durham perhaps benefited the most from this minor industrial revolution. As tobacco manufacturing flourished within the city, so too did a number of other industries that emerged in support of the trade. Durham in particular established a powerful banking sector, in which the affluent Durham Bank & Trust Company became the main lender for local real estate and insurance transactions. Led by local philanthropist, John Sprunt Hill, the Durham Bank & Trust Company had become one of the region’s most powerful financial institutions by the 1930s. Hill desired to construct a new building for the Durham Bank & Trust Company that could reflect its growing prestige. In 1935, he hired the illustrious New York-based firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon to oversee its development. Taking nearly two years to complete, the engineers modeled the edifice in the fabulous Art Deco style that was popular among New York City architects at the time.

When the towering, 17-story skyscraper debuted in 1937 as the Hill Building, it stood as an architectural masterpiece in the heart of Durham. The Durham Bank & Trust Company—as well as its successor, the Central Carolina Bank—would operate from its grand building along Corcoran Street for the next several decades. Also known as the “CCB Building,” the skyscraper symbolized the city’s economic prowess well into the late 20th century. The bank fell on hard times in the mid-2000s, however, announcing the loss of many accounts and jobs. During this period, the bank merged together with SunTrust Bank as a way to avoid bankruptcy. SunTrust would later sell the building to the Greenfire Development team in 2006, who dreamed of transforming the structure into a luxury hotel. But plans to renovate the space languished for more than eight years. It ultimately took the intervention of 21c Museum Hotels to save the project. Investing millions into the building’s rehabilitation, 21c Museum Hotels successfully rebuilt the bank into one of its luxurious venues. Every space inside this historical location has been reimagined to resemble a lovely boutique hotel, with its vaults and offices morphed into lounges and guestrooms.

  • About the Location +

    The first European to set foot in the area was English explorer John Lawson in the early 18th century, whose writings inspired countless immigrants to follow him across the Atlantic. Scottish and Irish nationals were among the initial generation of British transplants to arrive, settling upon land granted to George Carteret by King Charles I. Eventually known as the “Scotch-Irish,” the settlers established numerous homesteads in the densely wooded wilderness, as well as a few rudimentary gristmills. The area remained relatively isolated from the more developed coastline though, resulting in a ruggedly fierce independence that ultimately brought the region’s Anglo-American population into conflict with colonial authorities. In what some historians consider to be a precursor to the American Revolutionary War, the Scotch-Irish revolted against local British officials during “War of the Regulation” of the 1760s. The rebelling citizens specifically wanted a larger presence in North Carolina’s colonial administration, and spent the better part of six years aggressively resisting the policies of Great Britain. Even though the movement fell apart by 1771, it left a legacy of confrontation that would help American patriots martial forces when largescale fighting erupted throughout the colonies some four years later. In the years following American Independence, the site of present-day Durham became the home to several massive plantations, such as Cameron, Lipscomb, and Stagville. Most of those plantations specialized in cultivating Brightleaf tobacco and relied upon a massive population of enslaved African Americans to remain profitable. As such, the region was fully committed to the cause of the Confederacy at the onset of the American Civil War, although it largely avoided experiencing the conflict’s devastation. In fact, the closest that any army got to passing through the area were the ones led by William Tecumseh Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston, which bivouacked around Raleigh at the war’s end.

    By the late 1860s, the closest settlement resembling a formal town was a small village that surrounded a train depot known locally as “Durham Station.” It had been specifically founded two decades prior by the North Carolina Railroad, which used the area’s timber as a source of fuel for its locomotives. The depot’s name was derived from Dr. Bartlett S. Durham, who had donated the land for the station’s development. Both the station and its attending village remained fairly small until soldiers passing through the area began sampling the region’s unique variety of tobacco. Those veterans quickly spread word of its distinctive flavor, and demand for the crop exploded seemingly overnight. Two entrepreneurs— W.T. Blackwell and Washington Duke—specifically founded their own companies to help distribute the raw tobacco. Called the “Bull Durham Tobacco Company” and the “W. Duke & Sons Tobacco Company,” respectively, each business opened its own tobacco processing plant near Durham Station. A sprawling economic complex soon emerged around the factories, which worked diligently to support the area’s prosperous tobacco trade. Within a matter of years, banks, warehouses, and wholesalers opened their own shops around the train depot. Hundreds of new people arrived, too, giving rise to an actual city that the North Carolina General Assembly formally charted as “Durham.” Other heavy industrial operations relocated to the new city, such as the manufacture of textiles. Yet, the tobacco trade grew too large, as some federal legislators worried that the Bull Durham Tobacco Company and the W. Duke & Sons Tobacco Company had monopolized their industry. The administrative of William H. Taft even broke up the w. Duke & Sons Tobacco Company, splitting it into the much smaller American Tobacco.

    Durham’s population continued to expand significantly over the course of the following century, with a vibrant African American community taking root in the heart of the city. Some of the most successful black-owned businesses debuted at the time, such as the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Mechanics & Farmers Bank. The era’s Jim Crow legislation led to the creation of segregated facilities that separated whites from blacks, though. But by the 1930s, a new generation of African American civil rights leaders challenged the status quo in Durham. Several local activists—including C.C. Spaulding, Louis Austin, Conrad Pearson, and James E. Shepard—formed the Durham Committee, which helped spearhead the fight for civil rights. Durham itself soon became the site of numerous demonstrations, with some of the first sit-ins occurring toward the end of the 1950s. In 1957, Douglas E. Moore and six other protestors organized a sit-in at the Royal Ice Cream Parlor and were arrested for trespassing. Undeterred, students from North Carolina College and Duke University staged an even larger local sit-in. The protest even attracted the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who met with Moore in a show of solidarity. It was during his meetings with Moore that King famously declared “fill up the jails” in response to his strategy of non-violent civil disobedience as a way of combating racism and segregation. In the years since, Durham has become one of North Carolina’s most diverse and exciting holiday destinations. It is home to many outstanding cultural attractions, including the renowned Duke University, the Durham Performing Arts Center, the Museum of Life and Science, and the refurbished American Tobacco Campus. Durham is also just within an hour away from the fascinating communities of Chapel Hill, Greensboro, and Raleigh (North Carolina’s capital).


  • About the Architecture +

    Designed by the illustrious New York-based architectural firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, the 21c Museum Hotel Durham by MGallery displays a brilliant blend of Art Deco architecture. Art Deco architecture is among the most famous architectural styles in the world. The form originally emerged from a desire from architects to break with past precedents to find architectural inspiration from historical examples. Instead, professionals within the field aspired to forge their own design principles. More importantly, they hoped that their ideas would better reflect the technological advances of the modern age. As such, historians today often consider Art Deco to be a part of the much wider proliferation of cultural “Modernism” that first appeared at the dawn of the 20th century. Art Deco as a style first became popular in 1922, when Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen submitted the first blueprints to feature the form for contest to develop the headquarters of the Chicago Tribune. While his concepts did not win over the judges, they were widely publicized, nonetheless. Architects in both North America and Europe soon raced to copy his format in their own unique ways, giving birth to modern Art Deco architecture. The international embrace of Art Deco had risen so quickly that it was the central theme to the renowned Exposition des Art Decoratifs in Paris a few years later. Architects the world over fell in love with Art Deco’s sleek, linear appearance defined by a series of sharp setbacks. They also adored its geometric decorations that featured such motifs like chevrons and zigzags. But in spite of the deep admiration people felt toward Art Deco, interest with the style gradually dissipated throughout the mid-20th century. Many examples of Art Deco architecture survive today, with the some of the best located in such places like New York City, Chicago, and Miami Beach. Durham, too, has its fair share of Art Décor structures, as epitomized by the brilliant façade of the 21c Museum Hotel Durham by MGallery.


  • Art Collection +

    Specially commissioned site-specific works by some of the contemporary art world’s most exciting artists can be found throughout 21c Museum Hotel Durham. Mirrored surfaces and intersecting patterns of forms and imagery animate the site-specific art integrated into the 17-story Art Deco building, formally the historic Hill Building. Working with glass, plastic, acrylic, foil, tile, and found objects, the commissioned artists reference nature, technology, economics, politics, and entertainment to illuminate the evolution of the past into a future-focused present.

    At 21c Durham, Claire Shegog transforms miniature female figurines typically used as confectionary decorations into a range of characters that evoke various cultures—the southern belle, the cloaked Muslim, the ballroom dancer—painting each one by hand and affixing hats, jewels, and other accessories. She presents these tiny dancers on the horizontal surface of the reception desk. As visitors ascend physically on the elevator or the stairwell, Andrew Erdos’s Ascendance, which consists of waterjet cut mirror glass and a panoramic video loop that can be seen in cloud ‘windows’ cut into mirrors, surrounds them. A visit to the restrooms on the mezzanine reveals signage by All Is Fair in Love and Wear that proudly declares “Everyone All Ways.” It is a tactile, permanent, and public confirmation that no matter a person’s identity, they still belong: welcome, understood, and safe; “All Ways” always. Art is indeed everywhere at 21c. When guests enter 21c Durham’s restaurant, Counting House, they will look up and see that Cincinnati, Ohio-based artists Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis, known as FUTURE RETRIEVAL, created 18 chandeliers, grouped in six clusters, for the lounge. White porcelain busts of bear heads are adorned with porcelain collars; Yupo paper bunting cut into floral forms envelope the bear heads and link the chandeliers together and to the ceiling, transforming a portion of Counting House into a space of fantasy, where elements of nature, technology, and imagination are at play. When any guest visits the hotel’s historic bank vault, they should not forget to look down. Artists Leslie Lyons and JB Wilson, whose editioned porcelain tiles, BANK, from the series Unswept Floor, fills a portion of the floor in the lowest level of the 21c Durham building.

    Continue to explore the artwork in Counting House and learn, like the transformation of the historic building, recycling is synonymous with reinvention. Johnston Foster’s near life-size safety-barrel tiger, discarded-wood moose, and a zebra head assembled from a stripped leather couch and a broom brush; Yong-Ho Ji’s twin-headed tire ram; a rhino head comprised of gold-tipped matches by David Mach: the realism of today’s “trophy heads” resides in materiality. Rather than celebrate the power of humans over animals, these sculptures attest to the proliferation of commercial and industrial products, recycled and transformed. Decommissioning a commercial product, Duke Riley explores past, present, and future in It Will Warm You Twice. The cigarettes and mini cigars Riley utilized to create this large-scale mosaic reference the ubiquitous role that tobacco has played in the development and history of Durham, as well as the decline of its influence.


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