Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Growing the Historic Hotels of America

You may not have heard of the organization Historic Hotels of America. But if you love the feel of burnished wood, the taste of dry sherry in cut crystal or the look of a restored Victorian grande dame building, you may savor staying in one of the group's member hotels.

Historic Hotels of America has added 14 new members to its roster of more than 200 U.S. hotels and resorts since the start of 2010, I recently learned. I attended a luncheon hosted by the nonprofit organization's manager of marketing communications, Gina Galatro, who let it be known that the art and commerce of preserving and promoting vintage hotels is very much a going concern.

The nonprofit, 21-year-old HHA ( has enrolled, among others, Cork Factory Hotel, of Lancaster, Pa. and the Hotel St. Francis, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, as new members. Like the group's other members, they are commercial hotels that occupy time-honored buildings, some lovingly restored to a highpoint of an illustrious past, such as the Hotel Jerome, in Aspen, Colo., which dates to 1889, some of which occupy repurposed and renovated old structures, such as the Napa River Inn, in California's prime wine country.

"By inviting these new members into our collection of distinguished properties, we are continuing to encourage historic preservation while showcasing each hotel's rich history,'' says HHA's executive director Thierry Roch. "Our goal is to bring these historically special hotels and their authentic experiences to the attention of the traveling public.''

All this is part of a much broader effort to hold onto tangible reminders of America's past - to its collective cultural memory. HHA is a hotel brand affiliated with the nonprofit, 60-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation (

"To be selected for membership ... a hotel must be at least 50 years old, listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places or recognized locally as having historic significance and have faithfully maintained their historical integrity, architecture and ambiance,'' says the HHA.

In other words, merely being old doesn't get it done.

I have stayed in several hotels on the HHA honor roll - not because I knew they were members, but because I was drawn by their legacy, their location or their look - and found it to be a good experience, by and large. I admire the Nob Hill grandeur of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, the lush hillside garden at the Hotel Hershey in chocolate town USA (though not the eye-watering prices in the hotel's beautiful Circular Dining Room) and the manicured grounds and private villas of the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara, Calif.

It must be a challenge, running and promoting heritage hotels in a futurethink country like the United States. It's good to know someone's out there looking out for the interests of these grand properties, and keeping the past - tangibly, palpably - alive in the present.

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