Big Changes In Store for an Arts & Crafts Landmark

As I sat down this morning about to write this column, I had expected to open with the line, “Well, if it’s August, then its time to really start working on the Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference.”

But that’s not true.

Even after 25 years, I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think about some aspect of the Arts & Crafts Conference. Contracts from the 125 antiques dealers, contemporary craftsfirms, and book and magazine publishers have been coming in this past month, which means we’re working on the floor plan for the show, getting more space for some exhibitors, choosing replacements for others.

In the early years of the conference, I had to beg speakers to come to the Grove Park Inn. Now we’re fortunate in that researchers, writers and authors bring us proposals for presentations (first rule: we do not want lectures!), so we can put together a team of speakers who explore nearly every aspect of the Arts & Crafts movement, from art pottery and furniture to architecture, history, metalware and art.

And we’re just a week away from being able to announce this year’s topics and speakers.

So, we really don’t wait until August to get started.

Naturally, one of the most often asked questions I’m getting these days is how the new ownership is going to affect the February Arts & Crafts Conference.

In case you missed the announcement, after 57 years of stewardship, the Charles Sammons Corporation of Dallas sold the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa to a group of investors operating under the name of KSL Resorts in California. The firm owns a total of nine luxury resorts across the United States, from the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego to the Vail Mountain Lodge in Colorado and The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia.

The transfer officially took place on May 1st, but the KSL team had been on the property for months prior to that, inspecting rooms and facilities, making notes, formulating plans and interviewing every employee, from the room service staff in the kitchen to the general manager at the top.

I purposely laid low during those first few months, but now have started a round of meetings with new department heads, introducing myself and explaining how the conference has evolved over the course of 25 years. I was actually fortunate that back in the fall of 1987, the sales manager, with whom I had sat down and sketched out our plans for the first Arts & Crafts Conference, came to work on a Monday morning and got fired.

I learned that day the value of a written contract.

What started at that first meeting as a few pages of scribbled notes has now grown to become a 12-page legal contract setting the terms and conditions of our agreement for an annual Arts & Crafts Conference all the way to the year 2019. I’ve lost count of the number of sales managers I have seen come and go at the Grove Park Inn over the course of a quarter of a century, but knowing that we have a contract in place enables me to sleep at night. In nearly every case, the new sales manager has come in looking for ways they can help improve the Arts & Crafts Conference.

And KSL has not shown any indication they want to try to fix something that isn’t broke.

Besides, they’ve got bigger fish to fry.

What you are going to notice when you arrive next February are some major changes to the interior of the hotel. Since the rooms in the 1913 Main Inn and those in the 1984 Sammons wing had been renovated recently, KSL is focusing on the 1988 Vanderbilt Wing, including new carpeting in all the rooms and hallways.

And then there is the Great Hall, the mammoth lobby flanked by twin fireplaces capable of burning 12-foot logs, that has always served as the social center and the heart pumping energy throughout the entire 510-room hotel.

Ever since Fred L. Seely, the chief designer and general manager from 1913 through 1927, left the hotel, the Great Hall has suffered at the hands of owners and management who had little understanding or appreciation for the Arts & Crafts style. That attitude began to change after the success of the annual Arts & Crafts Conference, but by then much of the damage had been done: the rocks had been stripped off the columns, a storage room for the bellman was plopped along the front wall, the front desk had been enlarged far beyond what was needed, one of the fireplaces was allowed to deteriorate to the point where it could no longer be used, and a sports bar with big-screen televisions and loud bands dominated the room.

One of the KSL team members said she felt like she had stepped inside a major airport terminal.

Not what Edwin Wiley Grove and Fred L. Seely had in mind in 1913.

Nor the KSL and Grove Park Inn staff. So changes are going to take place.

Workmen have not yet descended on the Great Hall, for the KSL team has learned that “Haste makes waste.” On a project of this size and importance, more time should be spent planning and anticipating than demolishing and hammering. Sometimes you only get one chance to do it right.

So I don’t expect the Great Hall renovations to be completed by February, but I do think that we, more than any other group, will appreciate the steps they are taking to recapture the original Arts & Crafts feeling of the hotel.

And if they don’t, well, we’ve never been a shy group when it comes to expressing our opinions.

Until next Monday,

Be thinking about the G.P.I. in February!


“Little men want big titles, big men refuse them.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

(One of several mottos Fred Seely had painted on the boulders in the Great Hall at the Grove Park Inn.)

Lower Photo: The Great Hall c.1913 with Roycroft chandeliers and Heywood-Wakefield wicker furniture.