Ten renovation and retrofit projects make over structure to meet the needs of the contemporary hospitality industry and tap the place-specific power of older buildings.

Historic buildings often make ideal hotels, whether or not they began life as one. Converted industrial structures, office buildings-and even a water tower-have been repurposed as hotels. In other cases, historic hotels that fell into disrepair when central cities declined have gained new life as downtowns strive to recover. Often it is necessary to reduce the room count in older buildings to ensure that rooms are large enough to meet contemporary standards. Modern design touches interweave with restored architectural and interior elements to reclaim the site’s history and provide a sense of place –for both locals and out-of-town guests.

1. Andel’s Hotel Lodz, Lodz, Poland

One of Poland’s largest cities, Lodz served as a major textile industry center in the 19th century. By the 1990s, however, the industry had fallen into decline, and the textile mills at the city’s heart were left vacant. The mixed-use project Manufaktura opened in the city center in 2006, converting industrial buildings dating to the 1850s to house cultural and leisure facilities and adding a new retail center. Last year, andel’s Hotel Lodz opened in a former weaving mill within Manufaktura and now offers 220 standard guest rooms and 58 suites and extended-stay apartments.

Designed for Vienna, Austria-based real estate developer Warimpex Finanz-und Beteiligungs AG by London-based Jestico + Whiles and OPArchitekten of Vienna, the facility also includes a large atrium, a restaurant, and seven conference rooms. On the roof, the ballroom and swimming pool are enclosed in glass; the pool cantilevers above the main entrance.

The design restored and preserved historic red-brick walls, vaulted ceilings, and cast ironwork while inserting contemporary sculptural elements, such as the atrium elliptical concrete forms lit by color-changing lighting. Vienna International Hotels & Resorts of Vienna is the hotel’s operater. 

2. The Boundary, London, U.K.

On Boundary Street in the Shoreditch area of east London, London joint venture Prescott & Conran Ltd. created a hotel and dining venue out of a vacant, deteriorated industrial warehouse built in 1893. Design firm Conran & Partners, also of London, removed the mansard and added two floors containing duplex bedrooms with double-height living spaces.

The design retains the building’s brickwork, large sash windows, and light wells. The new floors are clad in green copper with a timber sunshade. Opened last year, the building includes a restaurant, a roof garden with bar and grill, a café, and a food store. Each of the 17 guest bedrooms reflects the style of a different designer or design movement, including Bauhaus, Charles Eames, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and the Shakers.

Sustainable design features include natural ventilation and materials obtained from local suppliers. A new groundwater cooling system, which relies on an artesian aquifer under the restaurant, operates the air conditioning, refrigeration systems, ice machines, and other equipment.

3. Citizen Hotel, Sacramento, California

With the help of a subsidy from the city of Sacramento and historic tax credits, local developer Rubicon Partners and local design firm Vitae Architecture recast the 14-story, 1920sera California Western States Life Insurance office building as a 198-room hotel. Creating the Citizen Hotel involved gutting and rebuilding most of the interior, restoring the art deco exterior and marble-paneled elevator lobby, and seismically retrofitting the structure.

The operator, San Francisco–based boutique hotelier Joie de Vivre Hospitality, held town hall–style meetings with residents and local organizations to help brainstorm a personality for the hotel that would be in tune with the city, emphasizing an urban, historic, traditional look with graphic touches that refer to the city’s role as the political center of the state.

Opened in 2008, the Citizen Hotel is located across a park from City Hall. It includes a climate-controlled, tented terrace deck, plus conference and meeting space; the Grange restaurant occupies a metal-and-glass extension designed by San Francisco–based Michael Guthrie & Company.

4. Gladstone Hotel, Toronto, Canada

The Gladstone Hotel is billed as Toronto’s oldest continuously operating hotel, dating back to 1889, but by the end of the 20th century, long-deferred maintenance resulted in water damage and general dilapidation. In 2002, the family of local architect Eberhard Zeidler purchased the building and began extensive renovations, completed in 2005.

Zeidler Partnership Architects restored the Richardsonian Romanesque structure’s stone ornamentation, brickwork, wood siding, and arched windows, as well as the original hand-operated elevator. Plumbing and wiring were updated and new wood floors installed. Each of the 37 guest rooms and suites was designed by a different local artist or team of artists, chosen by the Zeidlers through a juried submission process. The hotel also has a café, a bar, meeting and conference rooms, a ballroom, and short-term rental artists’ studios.

5. Hilton President Kansas City Hotel, Kansas City, Missouri

In its heyday, Kansas City’s President Hotel played host to entertainers such as the Marx Brothers and Frank Sinatra in its Drum Room lounge. Built in the 1920s, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But for 25 years after its closure in the 1980s, the only residents were pigeons. Developer Ron Jury of Overland Park, Kansas, and local firm Gastinger Walker Harden Architects have resuscitated the structure, which reopened as the Hilton President Kansas City Hotel in 2006.

The design revamped the 453 small guest rooms into 213 larger rooms and suites; restored the Drum Room and other meeting and community spaces; and reconstructed ceilings, terrazzo floors, and columns. It is the first completed project in Kansas City’s redevelopment of the South Loop, which also includes the Power & Light entertainment district.

6. Hotel Felix, Chicago, Illinois

For years, Chicago’s Hotel Wacker served as a single-room-occupancy property. Oxford OBG Investment Partners of Chicago purchased the building in 2007 and, with hospitality design firm Gettys and architecture firm Cubellis, both of Chicago, restored the 12-story hotel’s historic 1926 exterior and reconstructed the interior to meet modern standards. Opened last year as the Hotel Felix, the building incorporates contemporary sculpture, prints, and photographs in the two-story lobby and other public spaces.

Green design strategies include recycled-content carpet, use of rapidly renewable resources such as bamboo and cork flooring, high-efficiency mechanical systems, and heat/motion sensors that put thermostats into efficiency mode when guests leave their rooms. The hotel is designed to achieve a Silver rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

7. Joule Hotel, Dallas, Texas

The Dallas National Bank Building, built in the Gothic revival style in 1927, had much of its ornamentation stripped during remodeling over the years. In 2008, the 20-story building reopened as the 129-room boutique Joule Hotel. Adam D. Tihany, with New York City–based Tihany Design, and local architect of record Architexas re-created the facade using the original architectural drawings.

Tihany’s interior design includes commissioned photographs of Dallas displayed throughout the building, as well as a large, rotating gear in the lobby as a reference to the city’s role in the oil and gas industry. Named after a unit of energy, the hotel includes an adjacent new ten-story tower, the rooftop terrace of which supports a cantilevered swimming pool that extends over the street below. Juno Development was the developer for owner Tim Headington, president of Headington Oil Company; both companies are located in Dallas. The project drew on tax-increment financing from the city as well as historic tax credits. Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide of White Plains, New York, is the operator.

8. Midland Hotel, Morecambe, Lancashire, U.K.

The Midland Hotel, which opened in the 1930s in the seaside town of Morecambe, was designed by English architect Oliver Hill as a three-story art deco structure that follows the curve of the seawall, maximizing views of the water; its exterior was coated with white cement impregnated with fragments of glass and carborundum.

As the resort town’s popularity fell in the 1950s, the hotel fell on hard times and was vacant when the Liverpool offices of developer Urban Splash and architecture firm Union North took it over in 2003. The team restored and upgraded the building, creating a weatherproof version of the deteriorated glittery finish, preserving historic components such as large wall panels by English artist Eric Gill, and adding six suites in a new rooftop addition clad in zinc. The 44-room hotel reopened in 2008.

9. Mövenpick Hotel Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany

Nearly 200 feet (60 m) tall, a water tower dating to 1910 served as a landmark of the urban district of Sternschanze in Hamburg long after its closure in 1961, but it had reached a state of significant disrepair. Patrizia Project Development GmbH of Augsburg, Germany, brought in architect Falk von Tettenborn of Munich to convert the structure, located in a park, into a hotel for Glattbrugg, Switzerland–based Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts.

The work involved restoring the brick exterior, removing the reservoir and pumping equipment, replacing the roof structure, and inserting a new load-bearing structure in place of the steel one, which had rusted beyond repair. A tunnel cut beneath the surrounding park brings guests into the lobby, eliminating the need for a vehicular drop-off in front of the tower that would have disrupted the park. New glass atriums bring light into the lobby; a glazed two-story extension incorporates a restaurant and conference spaces. Opened in 2007, the hotel incorporates 226 rooms on 16 levels.

10. Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, Detroit, Michigan

Detroit’s decay took a toll on what was once the world’s tallest hotel. Developed in 1924 in the center of downtown by three local brothers named Book, the Italian Renaissance revival structure closed in the 1980s. Water penetration damaged what vandals and scavengers had left behind. Then Cleveland-based Ferchill Group partnered with the city to return the building to its former glory, using a combination of private financing, city and state loans, and brownfield tax credits. 

Kaczmar Architects, also of Cleveland, led the efforts, which involved demolishing crumbling floors and creating 455 hotel rooms, 67 condominium units, and three restaurants in a structure that once had had 1,136 rooms. Completed in 2008, the project also included restoring historic terra-cotta, brick, and plaster; installing historically appropriate windows; and restoring two ballrooms and building an addition to house a third. Star-wood Hotels and Resorts is the hotel operator.