And the Walls Came Tumbling Down…

For those of you who may be growing weary of reading about the Grove Park Inn, I apologize, but with the 26th national Arts and Crafts Conference now just three weeks away and the Grove Park Inn undergoing a major renovation, I hope you understand why it is uppermost in my mind.

And even if it were not the host site for our annual conference, being an historic Arts and Crafts hotel preparing to celebrate its 100th birthday on July 12th is reason enough to take a peek inside the cavernous Great Hall just to see what is transpiring.

Measuring 80′ x 120′ and flanked at either end by fireplaces large enough to park a car inside each firebox, the Great Hall has always been the social, physical and spiritual heart of the Grove Park Inn. Over the years, however, it has grown extremely crowded, with an enlarged front desk, a bellmen’s storage room, an oversized bar, a stage for bands, and three concierge desks.

One of the department managers compared it to being in a busy airport terminal.

The new owners vowed to return the Great Hall to Edwin Wiley Grove’s vision of “an old-time inn whose interior should present a home-like and wholesome simplicity, whose hospitable doors should ever be open wide, inviting the traveler to rest awhile, shut in from the busy world outside.”

And they are putting their money where their mouth is.

First, the bellmen’s storage room has already disappeared, replaced by more Arts and Crafts furniture. Then, the concierge desks were reduced in size and moved to the back wall, still accessible, but nowhere near as noticeable. Next, workmen began building a new front desk off-site. When completed, it will be carried in, set in place in an underutilized corner of the Great Hall, wired and staffed, at which time the existing 1964 front desk will disappear as quickly and as quietly as the bellmen’s storage room. That should all take place before we arrive February 22nd.

Ever since my first visit in 1986, people have debated what was hidden behind the oak boards wrapping the six gigantic pillars in the Great Hall. This past Monday we finally found out.

A crew of workmen attacked the oak paneling with hammers, pry bars and reciprocating saws, and in a matter of minutes had stripped the boards off the first pillar. Behind the 1964 oak paneling they found 1955 plaster imbedded in an oval wire mesh and some serious rebar. The plaster and wire slowed them down a bit, but eventually gave way, though not before belching out a cloud of plaster dust that floated across the room before settling down on the furniture.

But the housekeeping staff jumped right in, quickly cleaning and covering the furniture with sheets.

Those on the hotel staff who had hoped some of the original 1913 stone facades would still remain were sadly disappointed. As we had been lead to believe, the rocks were removed in 1955 to repair and replace plumbing and electrical lines to the guest rooms above the Great Hall. The original rocks were then used in other parts of the building. What the workmen exposed on Monday was one of the original, intact, 30″ square, poured concrete pillars, still with some of the original plumbing attached.

Once additional repairs have been made, the six concrete pillars will be covered with Arts and Crafts quartersawn oak panels made by one of our exhibitors, craftsman woodworker Rob Kleber. The new panels will still provide access to the utility lines, but will be much smaller than the former panels, giving the room a more open, spacious look.

By the time we arrive, the demolition will all be done and Rob may well have all six of the concrete pillars covered with his new Arts and Crafts panels.

And this past week the Grove Park Inn also had a lighting ceremony, as for the first time in modern history a fire was lit in the second fireplace. As simple as that sounds, the owners first had to invest more than $400,000 in having new stainless steel, six-story liners installed, the rockwork repaired, and new exhaust fans mounted inside the chimney to insure that the smoke would always be headed in the right direction.

So when we gather next month, we will have two fireplaces to warm us from the chilly February temperatures.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Until next Monday,

Have a great week!