The Hermitage Hotel, Nashville TN
Travelling to Nashville anytime soon? If you want to splurge- I've found your place. I don't know how it is for you, but for me- there are certain places and buildings that carry with it a certain energy or mystique. Perhaps this is why I have such a fascination with old buildings. There are so many things that happened there, some known- but much that is lost to history. The Hermitage Hotel is one of those buildings that when you walk in, you just KNOW that there is more to it that you could ever uncover. But if walls could talk- oh how I wish they would.
I will say that while this post is more about architecture and interior design, I simply cannot leave out what the hotel is significant for. The Hermitage has housed many campaign headquarters, elected officials, country singers and big name entertainers, both current and generations back. It has been home to many political discussions and deals. But perhaps most significantly, in 1920, it was headquarters to both pro- and anti- suffrage supporters and it was the place to be for the schmoozing and debates that would go on for both sides. Tennessee held the power of being the last vote that was required to ratify the 19th Amendment. And on August 18,1920 the Tennessee House of Representatives voted the 19th Amendment into law narrowly, by one tie-breaking vote (read more about it below in the 'for more info' section). I found it apropos to stumble upon one of THE key historical buildings that not only witnessed the realization of the woman's right to vote exactly 100 years ago, but also as we are literally days away from another election. This story was a wonderful reminder of just how lucky I am to live where I do.
All that being said, my pursuit of old buildings is primarily architecturally and design driven. I am fascinated by how it is put together for flow and the intricate details that define it. Yes, this is one beautiful hotel, and yes, I would love to stay there someday. All I can say is when I walked up the stairs to the main lobby area, I am sure that my jaw dropped. You don't have to be an interior designer or architect to know there is something about the genuineness of period buildings and spaces that ring true that replicas simply cannot fake. Usually we feel it, even if we cannot articulate why. Materials true to that time and the way they are implemented, motifs used, the way a painted tile looks and is cut, and even the colors and patterns. Much of the main areas are a combination of classical Italian and French Renaissance architectural styles. The elaborate use of marble on floors, counters and walls, the stained glass ceiling, stacked moldings, various applied moldings in patterns, and richly colored fabrics are all in line with these historical styles. In the lobby area and common areas, all these characteristics are on full display.
Scroll through to see different areas of this amazing space:
* Construction began in 1908
* Renowned Tennessee born architect J.E.R. Carpenter was the principal investor and force behind the hotel
* Investors spent more than 1 million dollars on the project- most expensive at the time in Tennessee
* It was the 3rd skyscraper built in Nashville
* It was named after President Andrew Jackson's nearby estate
* A Beaux-Arts style building, 10 stories tall, 122 rooms
* Guests were impressed with each room having its own plumbing & bathroom
* Tennessee marble was used for the flooring, Italian marble for columns & walls
* Hotel was shut down in 1977, sold, then reopened in 1981 after careful restoration
* In 2000 it was sold to Historic Hotels of Nashville and 3 years and 11.1 million dollars later, it opened faithfully restored to its former glory
* Aug 28, 2020 designated as a National Historic Landmark for its role in the final victory of the passing of the 19th Amendment into law
While there are several other notable areas of the hotel, the other part I'm compelled to highlight is the men's bathroom. When I first read about it, I wondered how a men's bathroom could create such a stir. Then I visited. It is not the classic Beaux-Arts style of the lobby and hotel in general, but it defines itself in its own right. At its inception the bathroom had simple white tiles, but during the 1930's was renovated into an art deco marvel. It currently is accented in black with black and lime green leaded glass tiles, a shoe shine section complete with a phone that connects to the front desk, lime green fixtures and a lime, salmon and brown/black terrazzo floor. When I asked the current resident historian and director of finance for the hotel, Tom Vickstrom why the women's bathroom on the same level isn't the same size nor standout- I learned that there wasn't even a ladies room on that floor originally. The current ladies area adjacent to the men's was originally a barber shop. In the early days, there was a ladies bathroom, but in a completely different area as there was not as much need for it because it was primarily men who traveled. Hooray for change- right?!?
Just so you know, this bathroom has become the stuff of legends. In 2008, it was voted as the Best Restroom in America- in 2019, one of the world's most Instagrammable bathrooms. Bus tours regularly stop at the hotel to view it. There have been wedding & Christmas card pictures taken here, the morning show with Kathie Lee and Hoda broadcasted a segment from here, Reese Witherspoon tweeted from here, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Hoffa and Elvis all even occupied this space. It clearly has reached the masses for it's uniqueness. But I also will contend that there is something in the genuineness of the execution of the design that people relate to on levels that they might not even understand. This is a true art deco bathroom that has been wonderfully preserved and without even knowing how, it draws us in and grips us in a way that isn't fully definable.
Finally, I must highlight the Veranda. Originally a Loggia (open air), but was later enclosed. Today, it is the site for weddings, receptions, and afternoon tea. I personally was enchanted by the space. The simplicity of the glass and iron light fixtures. The symmetry and repetition of the arched windows that mirror themselves along the length of it with a delicate, cloud painted sky overhead. The white terra cotta clad walls with a combination of barrel- and groin- vaulted ceiling- all original from 1910. Or, I could just show you the picture- which as they say, is worth a thousand words. I wouldn't need an excuse to linger here for a while....
So my friends, whether you are a traveller, a lover of historical buildings, a design or architect professional or enthusiast- as I said if you're ever in Nashville.....
How about you- Do you have any favorite historic hotels you like to visit? Tell us about it in the comments!
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~JER Carpenter, architect