Industry Update
Opinion Article27 January 2021

Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 243: Hotel History: Hotel Roanoke, Virginia

By Stanley Turkel, CMHS, Hotel consultant

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Hotel History: Hotel Roanoke, Roanoke, Va (332 rooms)

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Roanoke was a little town named Big Lick when enterprising railroad magnate Frederick J. Kimball chose it as the site of a major railroad juncture. After Kimball combined two of his railroads into the Norfolk and Western Railroad, he built a comprehensive community with the Hotel Roanoke as its grand centerpiece.

Built in a wheat field on a little hill, the Hotel Roanoke began as a rambling wooden structure of less than three dozen rooms. As the city grew, the railroad consistently provided resources for hotel additions, remodeling and furnishings to maintain the hotel's reputation for excellence. Even in the Depression year of 1931, the railroad spent $225,000 for a new addition with 75 rooms, a 60-car garage and such "modern" amenities as circulating ice water, movable telephones and electric fans. By then, the hotel's Queen Anne appearance had evolved into something Tudorean, the finishing touches of which were added in the major alterations of 1937-38, when the Hotel Roanoke acquired its distinctive Tudor facade and entrance. Additional new wings were added in 1947 and 1955.

In 1989, Norfolk Southern Corporation, direct descendent of Kimball's Norfolk and Western Railroad, concluding that its transportation business meant rail service, not room service, closed the hotel it had owned and operated for 107 years and gave it to the Virginia Tech Real Estate Foundation.

In 1992, the "Renew Roanoke" campaign was launched to raise enough money to reopen the hotel. Virginia Tech set a deadline of December 31, 1992 to raise enough money to own and operate the hotel. By late fall, the campaign was still short $1,000,000. In an unprecedented Christmas-time fundraiser, the campaign succeeded in raising $5,000,000. Norfolk Southern then donated an additional $2,000,000, 30 times what it received for the hotel.

After being closed for four years, the Hotel Roanoke began a multi-million dollar restoration and renovation project, funded by a package of public and private financing in conjunction with the City of Roanoke and Virginia Tech.

Re-opening in April of 1995, Hotel Roanoke carefully preserved the past with features such as an antique-filled lobby, original Czech-made chandeliers, a restored Regency Room (home of the famous Peanut Soup), Pine Room (formerly an Officers' Club in World War II), and the Palm Court, the original ceiling of which was painted to show the constellations as they appeared in the skies on the day the first train came to Roanoke in 1852. Simultaneously, the Hotel Roanoke embraced the future by building a 63,000 square-foot meeting space, featuring state-of-the-art technology and accommodating more than 1,200 people, evolving into the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center.

A pedestrian bridge was also constructed over Norfolk Southern's railroad tracks to link the hotel and conference center to downtown Roanoke near the Wachovia Tower. Roanoke's landmark former passenger rail station across the street from the hotel was converted into a museum as well as housing the Roanoke Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Over its 131-year history, the Hotel Roanoke has hosted the following famous guests:

  • Dwight Eisenhower
  • Mahalia Jackson
  • Richard Nixon
  • Aerosmith
  • Gerald Ford
  • Hilary Duff
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Jerry Seinfeld
  • George H. W. Bush
  • Henry Ford
  • Douglas MacArthur
  • Thomas Edison
  • Dwight Eisenhower
  • Harvey Firestone

The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center is operated under the Curio Collection by Hilton brand. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

2020 Historian of the Year
I am pleased to report that I received the 2020 Historian of the Year Award by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Historic Hotels of America Historian of the Year Award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion of greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.

My New Book "Great American Hotel Architects Volume 2" has just been published.
My Other Published Hotel Books

  • Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry (2009)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York (2011)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (2013)
  • Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt, Oscar of the Waldorf (2014)
  • Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry (2016)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels West of the Mississippi (2017)
  • Hotel Mavens Volume 2: Henry Morrison Flagler, Henry Bradley Plant, Carl Graham Fisher (2018)
  • Great American Hotel Architects Volume I (2019)
  • Hotel Mavens: Volume 3: Bob and Larry Tisch, Ralph Hitz, Cesar Ritz, Curt Strand (2020)

All of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse by visiting www.stanleyturkel.com and clicking on the book's title.
If You Need an Expert Witness:

For the past twenty-seven years, I have served as an expert witness in more than 42 hotel-related cases. My extensive hotel operating experience is beneficial in cases involving:

  • slip and fall accidents
  • wrongful deaths
  • fire and carbon monoxide injuries
  • hotel security issues
  • dram shop requirements
  • hurricane damage and/or business interruption cases

Stanley Turkel

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