10 Historic Buildings That Are Now Incredible Hotels
Change up your next hotel stay by lodging in a historic bullfighting ring in Mexico, restored canal homes in Amsterdam, a traditional castle in Ireland or even a one-time jail in Boston.
Photo By: Al Seib; Getty Images
Photo By: Alila Fort Bishangarh
Photo By: The Liberty
Photo By: Pulitzer Amsterdam
Photo By: Il Salviatino
Photo By: John Elk; Getty Images
Photo By: Courtesy of The Ned
Photo By: Monastero Santa Rosa
Photo By: Lotte New York Palace
Photo By: Ashford Castle
Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles, Calif.
Legendary actors Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin were among the famous founders behind the United Artists studio, housed in the United Artists Building that opened in 1927. And the United Artists Theatre (pictured) that anchors the building exemplified Hollywood’s Golden Age of glamour. Many iterations later, the building is now home to the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles, a cutting-edge boutique that opened in 2014. As the focal point, the 1,600-seat, three-story theater has been restored to its heyday, best described as a cathedral paying homage to the movie gods. The Spanish gothic interior overwhelms with gothic-style chandeliers and restored murals (of movie stars and execs, of course), while the arched ceiling sparkles with an infinite number of tiny mirrors encircled by a ceiling-length golden sunburst. The theater once again screens movies, although performances dominate the calendar. Either way, it’s a challenge to pull your eyes off the venue.
Alila Fort Bishangarh, India
Luckily you don’t have to be an invader to stay at the former Fort Bishangarh in Jaipur, a 230-year-old palace fortress that recently completed a nearly decade-long overhaul. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the ruined fort is now the Alila Fort Bishangarh, but, as a heritage conservation project, the hotel is still faithful to the original. For example, everything from the turrets to the wavy arched windows were either restored or recreated in keeping with Jaipur Gharana architecture. Careful consideration was even given to the walls, using a modern twist on an ancient plastering technique. Elsewhere, the main restaurant, Amarsar, is located in the former royal quarters, while the former dungeon now delivers spa treatments instead of torture. Another fun fact is the turret that now houses a cigar and cognac bar, whose original musket openings were used to pour boiling oil on intruders. (They now mainly serve as natural air-conditioning.)
The Liberty, Boston, Mass.
It’s a safe bet that the former residents of the Charles Street Jail would have preferred its current iteration as the ironically named Liberty Hotel. Although when it opened in 1851, prison reform methods greatly influenced the jail’s design, explaining, for example, its 30 windows that are each 33 feet high. However, the expression, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," proved true in this case, as overcrowding and poor living conditions eventually led to its closure in 1990. Now enjoying its best life as a four-star hotel, signs of its past are on full display as soon as you enter, like the preserved 90-foot central atrium and catwalk railings encircling it. Head to Clink restaurant to dine in former jail cells that are far cozier now, or visit Alibi bar (a former drunk tank, of course), to imbibe prison-themed cocktails and snap selfies in the original holding cells.
Pulitzer Amsterdam, Netherlands
Twenty five meticulously restored canal homes — all dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries — comprise the five-star Pulitzer hotel. The canal homes, part of a UNESCO site, completed a major renovation in 2016, keeping the historic aspects intact. For example, the Saxenburg House, now used to host weddings and special events, once was home to a wealthy dye salesman. The Italian marble floors, grand staircase and ornate 18th-century fireplace mantel are among the original features. Meanwhile, you can find original wooden beams in the rooms that used to be part of warehouses, and ornate plaster ceilings in the rooms that were part of homes. And hints remain of a former apothecary that used to occupy the entrance to the restaurant Jansz, with shelves of vintage glasses connecting the past to the present.
Il Salviatino, Italy
A walk down history lane suggests that a Roman fortress initially stood on the site of Il Salviatino, a restored palazzo that can be traced back to the 14th century. Its name is derived from the Salviati family, who owned and renovated it in the 16th century. Since then it’s changed many hands (even belonging to Stanford University at one point), and undergone more renovations, with the latest completed in 2010 when it debuted as a hotel. Among the preserved details is the 19th-century fresco by Augusto Bruschi (reserve the Affresco Suite to sleep underneath the gold, angelic painting). The wood-paneled, 19th-century library has also been restored to its heyday, when it played host to high society figures like Salvador Dali. Other historic features include the grand entrance stairs, now blanketed in red carpet; the marble floors near the library; and the magnificent terraced gardens dotted with fountains and manicured shrubbery.
Hotel Quinta Real Zacatecas, Mexico
Hotel Quinta Real Zacatecas just may be the only bullfighting ring-turned-hotel in the world. It’s built around an ornate 19th-century bullfighting ring that once featured famous matadors, but closed in 1975. The hotel opened in 1989, and you can easily channel the past while walking through the ancient brick corridors. In fact, linger over drinks at the Botarel Bar, set within the arched tunnels and illuminated by candlelight, as this was the former bullpen. Though not part of the ring, there’s even an ancient aqueduct on-site too.
The Ned, London
One of London’s buzziest new openings is The Ned, a five-star hotel located in the former Midland Bank. It’s named after the noted architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, or Ned, who built it in 1924 — back when bank lobbies rivaled luxury hotels. Many of the original opulent features were fortunately preserved during a multi-year restoration: vaulted ceilings, walnut-paneled counters and 92 green African verdite columns. But you’ll have to hunt to find some of the best-preserved details. These include an Instagram-ready spiral staircase; large cupboards next to The Tapestry Room that once stored top hats and canes; and even a private elevator that once carried the chairman to board meetings and private lunches. But the true showstopper is the former bank vault-turned-lounge, which you access through the original 25-ton, floor-to-ceiling vault door. If it looks familiar, that’s because it inspired the vault in the1964 James Bond movie, Goldfinger.
Monastero Santa Rosa, Italy
You can throw a rock and hit a historic hotel building in Italy. But Monastero Santa Rosa has an especially fascinating history as a 17th-century, pastry-making convent. The nuns were known for baking sfogliatelle, a cream-filled pastry shaped like a shell, which were called Santa Rosa. (Today’s hotel guests get to savor this tradition at breakfast, which is served on an outdoor terrace that makes the most of Mediterranean views.) Plenty of architectural features have been preserved as well: soaring vaulted ceilings, from the spa to guest rooms; an original 17th-century church that’s still in use; and the confessional, where guests can either jot down their sins, or, more likely, use their cell phone because of the location’s excellent reception.
Lotte New York Palace, N.Y.
This grand dame of New York Society started out as a Gilded Age residence called Villard Mansion. Famed architecture firm McKim, Mead & White built the neo-Italian Renaissance palace, and books could be written about its landmark preservation (and its prior life as The Helmsley Palace). But in a nutshell, every historic aspect of Lotte New York Palace has been faithfully restored, meaning even floorboards were replaced in their original spots. The Gold Room, the epitome of Gilded Age style, is gilt-covered from the walls to ceiling. It also possesses a musical motif as it was initially intended to be a music room. Meanwhile, the jaw-dropping Madison Room maintains its original green marble walls and columns, larger-than-life murals and chandeliers, and stained glass windows — making for the ultimate wedding venue.
Ashford Castle, Ireland
Ashford Castle offers so many activities (falconry, destination spa, movie theater), that it’s almost like a castle theme park. But this grand estate, dating back to the 13th century, has also preserved much of its royal heritage. It’s one of the few castle hotels that truly exemplifies the castle experience, thanks to a recent two-year, $75 million restoration project that fixed more than 40 battlements and ancient stonework. Inside the castle, Victorian-era oil paintings were restored to their prime, as were 30 guest rooms in a 19th-century wing. And abandoned tunnels have been converted into wine cellars that can accommodate more than 600 wine bottles — as well as guests for private, candlelit dinners.