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Charlotte's Once-fine Hotel, the William Rufus Barringer Hotel,
Retains its Simple Elegance
By Dannye, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

January 6, 2009 - - Richard Nixon and wife Pat stayed there, as did pianist Arthur Rubenstein and big-band leader Vaughn Monroe. Gene Autry was a guest in 1958, and through the years, so were movie stars Gloria Swanson, Tyrone Power, Betty Grable and Judy Garland.

Rumor has it that Elvis once slept there, as did Margaret Truman -- on separate occasions, of course.

The once-plush, 12-story William Rufus Barringer Hotel opened on North Tryon in December 1940 and underwent several name and ownership changes. Now, as Hall House, it opened Monday as a temporary home to some of Charlotte's homeless women and their families.

The Charlotte Housing Authority owns the old hotel, and with the help of other agencies has raised more than $720,000 to reopen the building.

On Saturday, dozens volunteered to clean, repair and paint the 600-square-foot apartments, once home to the elderly and disabled. Stale food, spider webs and roach droppings were swept away, as if Snow White and her team of dwarfs had taken command.

Quite a contrast with the building's glory days as one of the South's finest hotels.

During Nixon's 1960 visit, orders included an iced orange juice with coffee at 4:10 each afternoon, whether or not the vice president was on hand to drink them. If the coffee cooled and the juice grew watery, another tray arrived at 4:40.

But somehow the Barringer's reach always seemed to exceed its grasp. If the old hotel had "doubled its size" every time such an expansion was announced, the building today could shelter hundreds more.

The 120-room addition trumpeted in 1943 was at last completed in 1952. The $1 million expansion brought the hotel to 250 air-conditioned rooms, with hand-painted wallpaper in the dining room and, in the lobby, two oil paintings by Tenniere, "more than 200 years old."

Through the years, the hotel offered gimmicks to encourage customers who were fast fleeing to suburban motels. Swiss chefs followed German chefs, and the Plantation Room gave way to a "French theme throughout."

In 1961, it was the old "two meals for price of one." Members of the hotel's Executive Club (annual dues $6) could eat free once a month if they brought a paying guest.

Two years later, the hotel, now the Sheraton-Barringer, offered "the weekend vacation plan" -- an orchestra seat at a summer theater production, free baby-sitting, breakfast, dinner and golf privileges at a local country club. Cost: $15.75 for one and $25.50 for two.

But by 1975, the hotel, now the Cavalier Inn, had closed.

Today, there are no more antiques in the lobby, unless you count some of the donated TVs. No more "fondue cooking at the table," no more promotional come-ons.

But, if you ask me, elegance has been restored -- the simple elegance of taking what already exists and using it to supply a need -- shelter for those who otherwise would sleep with their children on the cold, hard streets of our city.

Dannye: 7004-358-5230;


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