Hotels have always played a large role in shaping American cities—determining up-and-coming areas, enticing tourists to visit, and, at times, even showcasing local artistic and culinary talent. But the latest trend to sweep the hospitality industry is actually transforming the landscape of cities across the country. Hoteliers have zeroed in on a concept known as adaptive reuse, which focuses on repurposing old spaces into new types of accommodation.
Under this model, abandoned warehouses become stylish boutique hotels. Retired office buildings become trendy bed-and-breakfasts. The difference between adaptive reuse and a full renovation is that “updated” buildings are redesigned to maintain a semblance of the structure’s past, whether that be in overall theme or a discreet design aesthetic. From Southern California to Upstate New York, these 15 hotels channel the past to breathe new life into the future of accommodation.
Los Angeles, California
Built in Downtown Los Angeles in 1924, the historic Commercial Exchange building was once the center of L.A.’s evolving urban development. It’s where the prominent American pharmaceutical retailer Owl Drug Company had its first drug store, and where the creator of Tarzan had his publishing headquarters. Today, it houses Freehand LA, a 226-room boutique hotel that was reimagined by hospitality innovators Sydell Group in collaboration with the renowned design firm Roman and Williams. The restored space channels a modern interpretation of old Los Angeles, featuring a rooftop pool and lounge, a communal lobby area with a salon-style bar, and a combination of private and shared accommodations ranging from a spacious studio to a snug room with bunks.
San Antonio, Texas
Before it was Hotel Emma, this San Antonio landmark was the original home of Pearl Brewery. The Texas brewery, which was established in 1881 and by 1916 was the largest in the Lone Star state, was the only brewhouse in San Antonio to survive the Prohibition era. The 146-room luxury hotel that now occupies the historic cellar has been updated to include modern amenities, but it remains a flagship of the Texan brewery in celebration of the building’s past.
Created from five 19th-century warehouse buildings that were once used to store bourbon and tobacco, Louisville’s 21c Museum Hotel now functions as both a contemporary art museum and a trendy boutique hotel. Located on historic West Main Street in downtown Louisville, the rehabilitated space features 91 custom-designed rooms, an acclaimed restaurant known as Proof on Main, and a modern museum with galleries that offer rotating open exhibitions to the public.
Once a train station serving travelers to and from Nashville, the Union Station Hotel now accommodates Music City’s visitors in an entirely different way. The luxury hotel’s 125 guest rooms were refurbished by esteemed hospitality design firm Dawson Design Associates and later became part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection of boutique hotels. The building’s grand lobby channels nostalgia for Nashville’s rich history—reminding guests of the space’s storied past.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The 527-room Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans occupies two historic landmarks: Maison Blanche, an iconic retail store established in 1897, and the S. H. Kress & Co. building, a national dime-store chain that operated from 1896 to 1981. During the 20th century, both buildings were vibrant hubs for business, commerce, and culture in downtown New Orleans. After they were shuttered in the 1990s, The Ritz-Carlton adapted the former shopping emporiums to become the city’s premier luxury hotel but maintained the building’s original aesthetic as a beacon of Beaux Arts architecture.
6. A publishing house
Built in 1909, this West Loop building housed the Free Methodist Publishing House until it was converted into the Museum of Holography in 1974. In 2017, B&B owners Shawn Uldridge and Kimberly Lowerly bought the building and tapped the newly established architecture firm, NUSHU, along with Chicago-based contractor, Vero Design + Build, for a complete renovation of the space. The 11-room boutique bed-and-breakfast brought new life to the historic building but not without preserving its character: the B&B’s name, The Publishing House, along with its intimate wine bar and restaurant, Press Room, are quiet nods to the building’s editorial heritage.
La Crosse, Wisconsin
In 2015, the prominent hotel group Aparium opened the Charmant Hotel in what was formerly the home of Joseph B. Funke Candy Company, one of the nation’s largest candy factories during the 20th century. The 67-room hotel, located in La Crosse, Wisconsin, celebrates the “golden era of candy manufacturing” with its bright interior decor and themed amenities, including a sweets bar that serves handmade chocolates 24 hours a day. The Charmant also takes its name from a premium line of chocolates produced by the building’s former resident candy company (which just so happens also to be the French word for charming).
8. A fire station
This five-story, brick-and-steel frame building in Detroit served as the headquarters of Michigan’s oldest fire department, founded in in 1929. After the structure was vacated in 2013, Aparium Hotel Group acquired the space and turned it into the Foundation Hotel. The boutique hotel features 100 guest rooms, each adorned with custom wallpaper from Detroit Wallpaper Co., printed photographs of historic Detroit architecture, and a headboard wall made entirely of repurposed wood—plus a restaurant led by Michelin-starred chef (and Michigan native) Thomas Lents. The team behind the building’s redesign worked with local artists to source unique pieces for the hotel, and a partnership with Detroit Bikes and Slow Roll allows guests to use bicycles to explore the city.
Housed in a 110-year-old church in Washington, D.C.’s historic Adams Morgan neighborhood, the newly opened LINE DC has been renovated to preserve the building’s striking architectural features. The 60-foot vaulted ceilings, large copper entry doors, brass detailing, and neoclassical accents pay homage to the property’s past. The LINE DC includes 220 rooms, a number of dining and drinking options from James Beard–recognized chefs, and a rooftop terrace with sweeping views of the capital city’s foremost landmarks. And a unique live podcast is broadcast from the hotel lobby. Helmed by Jack Inslee of Heritage Radio, LINE DC’s Full Service Radio features programming that includes politics, art, food, comedy, and more, presented by over 30 local hosts. Guests are able to watch the live recordings and have the opportunity to participate.
What was once an abandoned whiskey blending and bottling facility is now Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, a boutique hotel housed above a restaurant in the trendy Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown. Named after the 19th-century family-owned business that previously occupied the space, Wm. Mulherin’s Sons preserves the industrial character of the landmark structure, including much of its original decor and overall aesthetic. Mulherin’s Italian restaurant—located on the ground floor of the three-story building—features a lively bar, a dining room with a fireplace, and a second dining room with an open wood-fired oven and grill. Guests check in to the four-room hotel above with the restaurant’s staff—a model inspired by classic English pubs.
Ace Hotel Pittsburgh nods to its roots in America’s 20th-century industrial capital, blending a “no-frills” warehouse-inspired look with a modern, simplistic twist. Largely inspired by the century-old YMCA building in which it is housed, the revitalized building—designed in-house by creative agency Atelier Ace—maintains the building’s old-school aesthetic, preserving subtle details like the “CHAMP” wall stamp and vintage benches that decorate The Gym, the hotel’s communal gathering space. Located in the heart of Pittsburgh’s lively East Liberty neighborhood, Ace Hotel Pittsburgh has a unique design that honors the city’s sports- and steel-steeped past, while also looking to its future.
Brooklyn, New York
The eight-story building, located right on the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was originally built in 1901 and operated for years as a textile factory and manufacturing plant. The structure has since been transformed into the 70-room Wythe Hotel with rooms that boast floor-to-ceiling views of the Manhattan skyline, a high-end restaurant and bar, Reynard, that features a daily menu offering American fare, and a sixth-floor bar and terrace, The Ides, which serves specialty cocktails accompanied by stunning views. Much of the Wythe’s modern amenities use reclaimed materials sourced from the former manufacturing plant, including 13-foot-high ceilings and custom-made bed frames crafted from the building’s original timber.
13. A movie theater
Hudson, New York
First, it was a movie theater. Then it was a motel. Now, Rivertown Lodge is the Hudson Valley’s most laid-back place to rest your head (or at least, that’s what it feels like). When Brooklyn-based design firm Workstead designed the lodge (located just two hours outside New York City), it added a stovepipe fireplace, a communal kitchen, and a built-in library, but it maintained the building’s original details to preserve its “Early American Modern” aesthetic. Located on Hudson’s main historic street, the 27-room hotel is in close proximity to many of the town’s antique shops, galleries, and restaurants.
The expansive brick building occupied by the 317-room Langham Boston first opened in 1922 as a Federal Reserve Bank. In 2004, the former bank vault underwent a massive renovation and became a Langham property. But the hotel, located in Boston’s historic Post Office Square, still retains much of its original ambience. Communal areas are adorned with vaulted ceilings, ornate chandeliers, and bank-inspired decor, and the hotel’s award-winning restaurant lounges, aptly named The Reserve and BOND, remind guests of the hotel’s 20th-century heritage.
The Press Hotel is located in what was once home to Maine’s largest newspaper, the Portland Press Herald. Constructed in 1923, the brick-and-stone Gannett Building operated as a newspaper printing plant and writers’ office space until 2010. Today, the Press Hotel takes inspiration from the building’s past, with playful editorial references throughout the repurposed space. Each of the 110 guest rooms features a vintage-styled journalist desk; the hallways are adorned with wallpaper that cites real headlines from past issues of the Portland newspaper; and the hotel’s art gallery, which features work by local artists and is open to the public, includes a unique installation of vintage typewriters called SWARM, meant to depict the chaos of a newsroom.
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