Room With a View
by Larry Mundy
June 2006

 What Do You Do With an Old Hotel?
In my travels, I like to stay at unique hotels whenever possible.  I have stayed in hotels made from an old warehouse in Charleston, from a grain elevator in Akron, and from a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Savannah.  There have been hotels made from strings of railroad cars, art-deco office buildings, and I’m told even from giant blocks of ice (brrr).  In what urban planners call “adaptive re-use,” probably just about every type of old building has been considered for conversion to some sort of lodging facility.

But I have not seen a lot of re-use of old hotel buildings.  The thought crossed my mind when I recently drove though Mineral Wells, Texas, a town of 17,000 whose downtown is dominated by the enormous and beautiful Baker Hotel, 450 rooms of lovely stonework that in its heyday hosted Will Rogers, Lawrence Welk, Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland.  It attracted visitors from everywhere, lured by the supposed healing qualities of the local mineral water.  But it has been abandoned and empty for decades, a beautiful but forlorn testament to an earlier era.  It has absolutely no future as a hotel.

What can you do with a structurally sound hotel whose market has moved away?  The floor-to-floor spacing is too shallow for office use, where wires have to snake though the ceiling and floor.  The small, individual rooms do not lend themselves to paintball contests or indoor go-kart races.  There are a few possibilities, though.

In a college town, you can make it a dormitory.  From what I’ve seen of most college dorms, you wouldn’t even have to renovate anything, even in a hotel that’s been abandoned for longer than the age of most college students.  Hire some cafeteria ladies in hairnets, and you’re in business.  Unfortunately, many defunct hotels are far from the nearest college.

If you can secure the windows and doors, perhaps the local constabulary can use it as a prison.  This is being done today near downtown Dallas, and in several other cities.  Hotel room design rarely works for maximum-security use, where you have to check on the mass murderer several times an hour through a little sight window in the door.  For minimum security prisoners, however, you might actually have to renovate the facility.  In a writ of habeas corpus, could it be considered “cruel and unusual punishment” if your place of confinement has a broken vibra-bed or lacks an in-room coffeemaker?

You could remodel the hotel as “elderly housing,” which it already is, but the phrase really means “housing for the elderly.”  I hear this suggested most often by vital, young MBA’s who are convinced they, themselves, will never get old.  The average hotel room of the 50’s and 60’s was 10 or 11 feet wide, had no cooking facilities, and the closet would hold two shirts and a pair of shoes.  Tile the floor, put grab rails in the shower, and you have created the perfect minimum-security prison for sweet old ladies who have done nothing wrong in their entire lives.  When the current crop of all-suite hotels are aged and creaking, maybe this idea will work.  Until then, I submit the elderly would prefer to be lined up and shot.

How about lodging for the homeless?  Over here, we have this unused building divided into residential-style blocks of space, and over there, we have a crowd of down-and-out people living under bridges and shivering in shelters.  Two birds with one stone.  The only drawback to this is that someone has to pay for the utilities, food and such that this operation would require, and governments have historically left this role to charities.  On the other hand, if you have a defunct hotel and donate it to a charity, you will probably have a charitable tax deduction that’s, well, the size of a hotel.

But surely we can come up with more old-hotel uses, that don’t require housing humans uncomfortably.  People rent little mini-storage spaces all the time.  Would you object if your mini-storage facility had its own toilet?  I sure wouldn’t, when I’m spending hours combing through old boxes for a photo of myself when I still had hair.

And while we’re an increasingly paperless society, we still have an increasing need for paper-records storage.  Imagine the guy at the front desk consulting his computer screen: “Yes, Mr. Smith, your 2001 sales tax records just checked into 207 last week.”

Lost and abandoned animals are a huge problem in all cities and towns, and these poor creatures are thrown into cages to languish and await either adoption, or being “put to sleep” (which is our euphemism for killing them, it sounds so much more friendly).  What if that lost Lhasa Apso could watch Oprah in the afternoons, comfortably ensconced on a broken loveseat?  You could have a cat floor, a dog floor, a floor for New York sewer alligators.

Obsolete hotels don’t have to be abandoned.  They can just go to the dogs.

Larry Mundy works for a hotel company in Dallas.  His views are his own, and may differ considerably from those of a sane person."

Larry Mundy
[email protected]

Also See: The New Food & Beverage – Food “Just Like Home”  / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
Guest Privacy – It’s Not Just a Door Tag Anymore / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
The Future of Hotel Reservations / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
Soon Every Town in America Will Have an Unused Convention Center / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
Hotel Pool Safety 101 / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
Where Not To Build a Hotel / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
“Exterior Corridors” – Disappearing, Because They Never Existed / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy
My Top Ten Worst Hotel Inventions / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006
Bed Tech / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006
A Sense of Arrival / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006

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