Hotel History: Jefferson Hotel, U.S. Grant Hotel, The Montauk Manor, and The Jung Hotel
Some years ago, I served as the hotel consultant to the Sybedon Corporation, a New York-based real estate firm that specialized in restoration of historic hotels. The major hotel projects were:
• Jefferson Hotel, Richmond, Virginia
• U.S. Grant Hotel, San Diego, California
• Montauk Manor, Montauk, Long Island
• Jung Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana
Jefferson Hotel (1895), Richmond, Virginia (140 rooms)
Tobacco baron Lewis Ginter began building the Jefferson Hotel in 1892. It was designed by Carrère and Hastings, the same architectural firm that designed the New York Public Library, the Ponce de Leon Hotel (St. Augustine), Henry Flagler’s Whitehall Mansion (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.
During World War II, the hotel lodged transient U.S. Army recruits. The stained-glass skylights and windows were taken down to conform to blackout requirements. 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. 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 Palm Court, enhanced parking and improved amenities. A full-service health club is on-site, and the Jefferson Hotel also boasts one of Richmond’s finest restaurants, Lemaire.
For many guests and visitors, the dramatic 36-step polished marble staircase in the lobby- 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 52 American hotels with both the AAA Five-Diamond and the Forbes Five-Star ratings. It is a member of the Historic Hotels of America and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
U.S. Grant Hotel (1910), San Diego, California
The U.S. Grant Hotel was built by U.S. Grant, Jr. in honor of his illustrious father, President Ulysses S. Grant. Grant bought the 100-room Horton House Hotel and demolished it to construct the current hotel in 1910. It was designed by the famous architect Harrison Albright, best known for the West Baden Springs Hotel (1902), French Lick, Indiana with the largest free-spanning dome in the world, then known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
When it opened, the U.S. Grant Hotel featured top floor arcadia windows, balcony balustrades and imposing lentil cornices. Inside, a grand white marble staircase with a carved alabaster railing led from the lobby up to the hotel rooms. In 1919, Baron Long acquired ownership of the hotel and in the next twenty years instituted many improvements.
When the Grant Hotel went through another ownership change after World War II, the Grant Grill was created off the lobby on Fourth Avenue. In 1969, after sit-ins by a group of female attorneys, the Grant Grill ended its mens-only policy. As a tribute to those brave women, a brass plaque was installed outside the Grant Grill reflecting the end of that discriminatory policy.
The hotel was extensively refurbished in the 1980s by the New York-based Sybedon Corporation and Christopher Sickels.
In 2003, the hotel was purchased by the very ancestors of the land on which she stood. The Sycuan Tribal Development Corporation (STDC), the business arm of Sycuan, a sovereign tribe of the Kumeyaay Nation, acquired the 11-story hotel for $45 million.
The Kumeyaay Indians are one of four Native American tribes that are indigenous to San Diego County and can trace their San Diego roots back more than 10,000 years. Their people lived on the northern edges of San Diego and south past the Mexican border, with land that includes the very spot where the U.S. Grant now stands.
President Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States, disapproved the treatment of the Indians of the American West. In 1875, he passed an executive order setting aside 640 acres of land in Dehasa Valley in East San Diego County for the Kumeyaay Tribes. In great part due to its efforts, the United States Government in 1891 passed the “Act for the Relief of the Mission Indians” which officially recognized the sovereign status of California’s Indian Tribes.
The Kumeyaay, who had suffered so enormously at the hands of generations of Westerners, remember Ulysses S. Grant as a rare soul among politicians. In an act of poetic justice, the extraordinary restoration of the U.S. Grant Hotel paid respect to its history and to the heritage of the Kumeyaay Nation.
Montauk Manor (1927), Montauk, Long Island (178 rooms)
The Montauk Manor was built by Carl Graham Fisher. It had an oceanfront bathing pavilion, complete with an outdoor pool and 1,600 feet of boardwalk along the beach. Eighteen holes of golf was available at Montauk Downs. There were twelve outdoor tennis courts and six indoor courts. For polo enthusiasts, playing fields complete with paddocks, stables, and herds of ponies were maintained at the nearby Deep Hollow Ranch. In addition, fox hunts, horseback riding and deep-sea fishing were available.
In the 1920s, Montauk was a cosmopolitan resort, a Monte Carlo on the Atlantic that attracted the world’s elite. Montauk Manor was the most luxurious hotel on Long Island, a favorite of the New York/Newport clientele. The Manor’s popularity supported direct steamer service to and from Manhattan. Each night of the summer season, scores of fancy touring cars and limos would transport scores of blue bloods and society swells who were bound for fine food, excellent wines and the sound of money hitting the gambling tables.
Jung Hotel (1908), New Orleans, Louisiana (207 rooms)
First opened in 1908, then expanded in 1925 and again in the 1960s, the Jung Hotel was designed by the prominent architectural firm of Weiss, Dreyfous & Seiferth. It had once been known as the largest convention hotel in the South. It was called the Jung for more than 75 years and, later it was known as the Clarion, Radisson, Braniff Place, Grand and Park Plaza. The Jung family (Peter Jung, Sr., Peter Jung, Jr. and A. L., Jung) built the original hotel to the designs of the same architectural firm which built many public buildings during Governor Huey P. Long’s tenure. In the late 1920s, they designed three major hotels: the Jung Hotel and the Pontchartrain Hotel, both in New Orleans and the Eola Hotel in Natchez, Mississippi. In its prime, the Jung Hotel played host to Mardi Gras krewes, high school proms, carnival balls and a 1964 appearance by President V. Lyndon Johnson who delivered a re-election campaign speech. In the 1970s, the Sybedon Corporation renovated the hotel, opened two restaurants, refurbished two ballrooms, and instituted shuttle bus service to the French Quarter.
Developer Joe Jaeger is converting the Jung into a mixed-use complex including residential apartments, extended stay rooms and commercial space. The hotel has sat vacant since Hurricane Katrina.
The author, Stanley Turkel, is a recognized authority and consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel, hospitality and consulting practice specializing in asset management, operational audits and the effectiveness of hotel franchising agreements and litigation support assignments. Clients are hotel owners, investors and lending institutions. His books include: Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry (2009), Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York (2011), Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (2013), Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf (2014), Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry (2016), and his newest book, Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels West of the Mississippi (2017) – available in hardback, paperback, and Ebook format – in which Ian Schrager wrote in the foreword: “This particular book completes the trilogy of 182 hotel histories of classic properties of 50 rooms or more… I sincerely feel that every hotel school should own sets of these books and make them required reading for their students and employees.”
All of the author’s books may be ordered from AuthorHouse by clicking here.