What Would Thomas Edison Order?
It was with some trepidation and not a little apprehension that I drove over to the Grove Park Inn last weekend, my first trip up Sunset Mountain to the famed Arts and Crafts hotel since construction had recently been completed on the public areas.
The Inn, you may know, has been the site of the National Arts and Crafts Conference and Antiques Show for the past 26 years, and will again host the conference on February 21-23, so my interest was spurred by more than simple curiosity.
Over the course of its one hundred year history, about which I have devoted a great deal of my past 27 years researching and writing, the Grove Park Inn has endured many changes, some literal upheavals, and more than a few insensitive interior decorators. None may have proved more unsettling, however, than the one year ownership by KSL Partners, a private equity firm that rolled in and instituted a number of cost-cutting, employee reducing, and generally unpopular measures designed to improve the fabled “bottom line.” Their intention from the beginning, although not admitted publicly, had been to make enough improvements and cut enough overhead to make the Grove Park Inn one of the most profitable “flips” in Asheville’s real estate history.
And it worked. For their investors.
In the process, however, the Grove Park Inn lost many dedicated employees from every department, some of whom had worked there most of their adult lives, and had become members of the Grove Park Inn family.
On July 1st, however, Omni Resorts became the new owner of the Grove Park Inn and undertook two major challenges: completing the remodeling projects KSL had started, and rebuilding the morale of the staff.
Compared to the other, one proved relatively easy.
Historians and preservationists are wary of change, and I am no exception, for if not carefully considered, change can be disastrous. The first thing I looked for when I stepped inside the Grove Park Inn last weekend was the staff. I likened it to when an airplane hits turbulence: to judge how serious it is, I look at the faces of the flight attendants. The faces I saw at the Grove Park inn were relaxed, smiling, happy to be there, and pleased to have plenty of help around them. The vast majority were new faces, and while I still mourn the absence of many of my friends from the staff, I was pleased to see these young, energized, enthusiastic, and helpful faces.
And as I sat in the Great Hall, and then, later, in the new restaurant Edison’s (inspired by Thomas Edison, a guest in August of 1918), I looked around, let it all soak in, and said to Leigh Ann, “I like it.”
And this is coming from someone who probably, if he could, would have handed the interior decorators, the stone masons, the tile setters, and the woodworkers every photograph taken when the Grove Park Inn opened in 1913 and said, “Make it look exactly like this.”
Well, that wasn’t going to happen, for several practical reasons, but as I sat there and looked around, not just at the new furnishings and the fresh faces, but also at the hundred year old granite walls, the towering twin fireplaces, and the preserved Roycroft antiques, then shifted my gaze to the million year old Blue Ridge Mountains watching patiently from a distance, I did not have to be reminded what a special and truly unique place the Grove Park Inn is — and always will be.
Until next week,
Thanks for stopping by!
For information on the February Arts and Crafts Conference, click on http://www.arts-CraftsConference.com.