William, Gayle and Carl Cook, Bloomington, IN
Award Type: Honor Award
Preservation is all about digging deep – but few people have dug deeper or reached higher than the members of the Cook family of Indiana. Thanks to their gutsy commitment, two of the Hoosier State’s best-known and best-loved landmarks are alive and thriving.
The Cook family—Bill, Gayle and son Carl—are successful medical device manufacturers from Bloomington, Indiana, who share a passion for historic preservation. In the mid-1990s, they began helping the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana rescue the collapsing West Baden Springs Hotel and the French Lick Springs Hotel. Their unparalleled commitment not only saved these two historic treasures from the wrecking ball, but their efforts also brought prosperity back to the community while bolstering the statewide preservation movement.
When it opened in 1902, southern Indiana's West Baden Springs Hotel made headlines with its breathtaking soaring, 110-feet high domed atrium. Once the social playground of the wealthy elite, sports heroes, politicians and even gangsters like Al Capone, the hotel was forced to close when it was hit hard by the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. For more than 70 years it languished until it made news again in 1991 when part of the long-neglected structure collapsed.
Unwilling to let the building die, the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana purchased the hotel and enlisted the help of the Cook family, who initially invested $35 million to stabilize it. When no buyer stepped forward, the Cooks acquired the hotel themselves and meticulously restored it to its original gilded glory—with no guarantee of ever recovering their investment.