Two More Revived Historic Hotels

The Palmer House is just one of the historic hotels revived and restored in recent years. Others brought back from the brink include the modernist icon and the mineral resort shown here. You'll find another dramatic hotel transformation at PreservationNation.org/magazine.

November/December
Cover of November/December 2008

Hotel Valley Ho

The Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Ariz., displays a photograph of a very young Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner at their 1957 wedding reception, held here just a year after the hotel opened. The couple poses beside a tiered wedding cake, already Hollywood royalty and yet so unscarred by celebrity, they seem to embody the fresh confidence of the 1950s.

Flush with prosperity and a postwar baby boom, America probably never felt better about itself than it did then. The Valley Ho's architecture captured the exuberance of that era with unapologetically bold forms and colors. Designed by architect Edward L. Varney, the hotel also assumed a modest southwestern look with burnished red concrete columns and railings whose V-shaped forms resembled abstract arrowheads.

Built by Robert and Evelyn Foehl, hoteliers with Hollywood connections, the Valley Ho quickly became a destination for stars like Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Jimmy Durante (who enjoyed playing the lobby piano late in the evening). But the Valley Ho lost its filmdom ties when Robert Foehl died in 1973 and the property became a Ramada Inn. Remodeling stripped away much of its original character. By 2002, when the hotel came up for sale, it had fallen into disrepair and was nearly razed. Fortunately, Westroc Hotels & Resorts bought the Valley Ho to restore it.

The Scottsdale architecture firm Allen + Philp headed the project and learned that Varney had originally planned a high-rise tower as part of the Valley Ho. Needing additional rooms to make the venture financially viable, the firm designed a similar seven-story tower as part of the $80 million, two-year job. "We worked to stay true to the spirit of the original," says architect Mark Philp.

The renovation stripped away drywall to reveal the original brick guest-room walls. It opened up the lobby and restaurant, bringing back a bright indoor-outdoor space that had been an integral part of the structure's character. Features such as the concrete columns in the lobby and restaurant, which Ramada had covered with mirrors, were restored to their c. 1956 appearance.

The materials used in the rooms—painted concrete, Formica countertops, and frosted glass—are true to the midcentury modern style, as are the bright colors and current interpretations of minimalist furniture. "The architectural integrity of the renovation is amazing," says Ace Bailey, who gives historical tours of the Valley Ho. "The beautiful thing about the property is the way it reflects the innocence of the era." The Valley Ho, which reopened in 2005, is again a popular destination. According to hotel spokesperson Kristin Escalera, Robert Wagner even stopped by for a visit. — Reed Karaim

Bedford Springs Resort

Anyone convinced that spring water is a modern-day obsession should visit the historic Bedford Springs Resort outside Bedford, Pa. Nestled in the southern Allegheny Mountains, this National Historic Landmark, which reopened last year after a $120 million renovation, is a temple to the power of H2O—and always has been.

Constructed beginning in the 1790s in a valley dotted with mineral springs, the hotel attracted a steady stream of presidents and privileged vacationers well into the 20th century. And like so many other grand resort hotels of the period (think the Homestead and the Greenbrier), it grew to accommodate them—with new wings, diversions, and luxuries.

But the abundance of water that drew guests also spelled the hotel's doom. In 1983 a flash flood deluged Bedford Springs and led to its closing for more than 20 years. Keith Evans, managing partner of Bedford Resort Partners, which rescued and redeveloped the property, remembers the first time he walked through in 1998. "You could see daylight through the roofs, windows were broken so it was open to the elements, and plaster was falling down from the ceilings. The scope of this undertaking was pretty major."

With design architect David Rau from the firm 3north, Evans' group began reconstruction in 2005, committed to respecting the historical significance of the 2,200-acre property. The five principal hotel buildings were in such poor condition that gutting the interiors proved unavoidable. Select architectural elements were preserved (fireplaces, trim, and the grand staircase in the Greek Revival Colonnade House), but nearly everything else was torn out and replaced.

After two years, the rebuilt hotel opened with 216 rooms, a substantial collection of period artifacts decorating restaurants and public spaces, and a new luxury spa. The original indoor swimming pool, housed in its own building, was restored, and developers also unveiled a new outdoor swimming complex and a refurbished 18-hole golf course.

From a distance, Bedford Springs looks identical to the resort captured in the black-and-white photographs lining the library walls. Soaring white columns still dominate the entrance, and frame views of the Magnesia Spring across the road. Long porches still line the fronts of the adjacent 19th-century buildings that stretch along the valley. But the guest rooms and dining rooms—in fact, all the spaces—are resolutely modern, though decorated sympathetically with period-appropriate wallpapers and lighting fixtures.

"We tell guests that the architects and designers here tried to offer an authentic experience that recalls the resort in its heyday," says Angela Shaffer at the concierge desk. (Thus the museum cases filled with antique ledger books in the lobby and library, and the dramatic 19th-century American flag, mounted behind the new front desk.) "The owners saved Bedford Springs and brought it back," she says. "Today we're preserving a historic resort that appeals to guests in search of modern-day comforts." —James H. Schwartz