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Two resort hotels—a domed marvel and its Gilded Age sibling—get the royal restoration treatment.

 

West
The dome of the West Baden Springs Hotel was the
world's largest when it was built in 1902.

Credit: Chris Smith

If you ran into Bill Cook at a neighborhood restaurant, you might guess he was a rancher, the sort of person comfortable driving a vehicle with no doors on a road with no pavement. He wears his gray hair cropped short and is plainspoken, tall, and rangy. You probably wouldn’t peg him to be a billionaire several times over, or guess that he occupies a spot around 80 on the Forbes 400 list of the nation’s wealthiest individuals.

And you might not guess that he and his wife, Gayle, who made their fortune manufacturing medical devices, have been among Indiana’s most ardent and quietly effective preservationists.  Starting in 1976, the couple has acquired and rehabbed dozens of historic buildings in the state, mostly around Bloomington, where Cook Medical Inc. is based. “I like the history and the research,” says Gayle Cook. “He likes the bricks and mortar. So it’s a good combination.”

Their three-decade commitment to preservation is now being put to its biggest test in southern Indiana. This summer the West Baden Springs Resort—a building proclaimed as the eighth wonder of the world when it opened in 1902—will reopen as a hotel 75 years after the last guest checked out. That was in 1932, the year Amelia Earhart soloed across the Atlantic and Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president, and a year after Bill Cook was born.

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