The Elegant Jefferson Hotel, Richmond Virginia
If one has not visited the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, then it must be put on your bucket list! It is truly breathtaking interior and exterior of this Grand Lady!
I have stayed at the Jefferson in the infamous Room #19.
Room 19 is an upstairs room featuring 1 Full Bed with 201 Square feet. This room is known for its haunted history. There was a bride that hanged herself from this very bed because her husband did not show to the wedding. It is said that she still resides with the antique bed. I did not see the bride but this room has a special vibe.
I have eaten at the famous “Lemaire,” a restaurant named after Etienne Lemaire, who served as maitre d’hotel to Thomas Jefferson from 1794 through the end of his presidency. Some of the best meals I ever eaten.
But let’s not forget the Champagne Sunday Brunch. One has to book 3 to 4 months out and a year out for special holidays. This is one of the best brunch I have ever eaten. And I am a Brunch lover! The brunch was suspend during the pandemic of 2020, but according to the hotel they will begin in 2022 at one point. Just call or check the website for the hotel.
Not to forget pictures taken on the famous grand staircase and with the bronze alligators.
Tobacco baron Lewis Ginter began building the hotel in 1892 and opened it in 1895. Designed by Carrère and Hastings, the same architecture firm that designed the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, the Ponce de Leon Hotel (St. Augustine), Flagler’s Whitehall Mansion (Palm Beach), the House and Senate Office Buildings (Washington, D.C.) and many more.
As a centerpiece for the upper lobby, Ginter commissioned Richmond sculptor Edward V. Valentine to create a life-size image of Thomas Jefferson from Carrara marble. Ginter imported exotic palm trees from Central and South America and purchased hundreds of valuable antiques. The hotel had electric lights, electric elevators, hot and cold water in the guest rooms and a Teleseme (predecessor of the telephone) for room service. Other unusual amenities were a grill room, ladies’ salon, a library, Turkish and Russian baths. The hotel opened on Halloween 1895 for the engagement party for Charles Dana Gibson, the famous illustrator and Irene Langhorne, better known as the Gibson Girl.
In 1901, a fire demolished three-fifths of the building. One hundred guest rooms fronting on Franklin Street were intact and reopened in May of 1902, but major reconstruction was required in the portion facing Main Street and the hotel languished for several more years. Then, in 1905, the furniture and accessories were replaced and marbleized columns and Edwardian and rococo touches were added. The Grand Staircase and the Mezzanine, both formerly enclosed behind arched walls, were opened and the hotel expanded to include 330 new rooms in addition to the 100 remaining from the original structure. In May, 1907, the enlarged hotel was reopened in time for the Jamestown Exposition. The restoration was designed by architect J. Kevan Peebles, who also designed the new wing of the Virginia State Capitol. At about this time, alligators were placed in the marble pools in the Palm Court. Many Richmond citizens donated pet alligators to the hotel. One apocryphal anecdote tells the story of an alligator who crawled out of the pool and into the library where a senior-aged guest mistook the alligator for a footstool. When the “footstool” moved, she became hysterical and ran out screaming. By the time she convinced hotel attendants, the alligator had already slithered back to his watery pool. The last alligator, Old Pompey, remained a guest at the Jefferson pool until he died in 1948.
During World War II, the hotel lodged transient U.S. Army recruits. The stained-glass skylights and windows were taken down not only to conform to blackout requirements, but also to prevent breakage from empty bottles tossed by rowdy soldiers. In March 1944, another fire broke out which took the lives of six people. Soon after the war ended, a gradual decline set in. By 1980 the hotel was closed to everyone except the occasional moviemaker.
After acquisition by the New York-based Sybedon Corporation, renovation began in 1983 and $34 million later, the hotel was reopened on May 6, 1986. Old paint was removed from walls to reveal mahogany paneling and from exterior columns to uncover pure marble. Hand-carved fireplace mantels, ornate ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, writing tables and assorted bric-a-brac were cleaned, polished and restored. Beautiful stained-glass windows were retrieved, refurbished and restored. Decorative carvings on ceilings and gold leaf ornamentation were renovated. An original heavy brass mailbox with an eagle, rosettes and lettering was refinished and placed in the registration area.
On July 2, 1991, the Jefferson was sold to Historic Hotels, Inc., a Richmond-based group of investors. In the next year a multi-million dollar renovation began, which included redecoration of all guest rooms and suites, the Rotunda and the Palm Court, enhanced parking and improved amenities. The hotel’s 155 guest rooms and suites come in 57 different styles, all outfitted with high ceilings, large windows and custom furnishings. A full-service health club is on-site, and the Jefferson Hotel also boasts two of Richmond’s finest restaurants and a Champagne Sunday Brunch.
Among the list of celebrities and notable guests who have visited here are: 13 U.S. Presidents, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Charlie Chaplin, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Anthony Hopkins, Whoopi Goldberg, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Gertrude Stein, General John J. Pershing, Marshall Foch, William Jennings Bryan, Sarah Bernhardt, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. Sergei Rachmaninoff played the piano in the Grand Ballroom and Bill (Bojangles) Robinson was “discovered” as he waited tables in the dining room.
For many guests and visitors, the dramatic 36-step polished marble staircase has been the cynosure of all eyes. Since the film classic “Gone With the Wind” was allegedly filmed on the Jefferson Hotel staircase, it is hard to stand at the base without visualizing Rhett Butler carrying Scarlett O’Hara up those stairs.
The Jefferson Hotel is one of only 27 American hotels with both the AAA Five-Diamond and the Forbes Five-Star ratings. It is a member of the Historic Hotels of America and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Grand Lady:
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a charter member of Historic Hotels of America, The Jefferson Hotel is among the most historic travel destinations in the country. In 1892, Lewis Ginter—one of the area’s most colorful characters—decided to construct a magnificent hotel for his beloved city. An estimated $5 to $10 million went into planning, building and furnishing the hotel, with nearly $2 million going toward its three-year construction. But Ginter’s plan to construct an extravagant holiday destination paid off. Thousands of visitors from across the United States flocked to The Jefferson Hotel when it first opened its doors on Halloween Day of 1895. By the end of the decade, The Jefferson Hotel affectionately bore the moniker of “The Belle of the ‘90s.”
Three-fifths of the building’s structure became compromised in 1901 from a tragic accident. Even though 100 guest rooms remained intact, the hotel had trouble recovering. A concerned group of local citizens led, in part, by Lieutenant Governor Joseph Willard then decided to fully renovate The Jefferson Hotel. They hoped to achieve that vision in time for the tercentennial anniversary of the Jamestown Expedition. Through the Jefferson Realty Company, the group initiated an extensive restoration of the building in 1905. Together, they added marbleized columns and applied a combination of rococo aesthetics to the hotel’s interior. The Grand Staircase and the Mezzanine—both formerly enclosed behind arched walls—were opened up and the hotel expanded to include 330 new accommodations. The Jefferson Hotel then held its grand reopening in May of 1907.
During World War II, the hotel lodged transient recruits on their way to one of the war’s many theaters across the globe. The stained-glass skylights and windows were taken down not only to conform to blackout requirements, but also to prevent breakage from empty bottles tossed by the rowdy crowds. In March 1944, another structural mishap befell the hotel, which marked the beginning of a gradual decline in business for The Jefferson Hotel. This period of prolonged decay continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s, despite diligent efforts to attract scores of new patrons. The hotel closed to everyone by 1980, except for when Director Louis Malle used the Grand Ballroom in his film, My Dinner With Andre.
New life entered The Jefferson Hotel when another round of renovations began in 1983. Three years and more than $34 million later, the hotel reopened once more on May 6, 1986. Developers removed layers of paint to reveal the building’s beautiful mahogany paneling and marble columns that others had covered up a few decades prior. The original hardwood and marbling flooring were cleaned and properly polished for the first time in years. Craftsmen resurrected many items, such as hand-carved fireplace mantels, ornate ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, and writing tables. Then in 1991, The Jefferson Hotel became owned by Historic Hotels, Inc., a Richmond-based group of investors unaffiliated with Historic Hotels of America. In the ensuing decades, the hotel has thrived as a cornerstone of Richmond’s social and business scenes. The hotel recently completed a full reconstruction of its guest rooms and suites, as well as a renovation of all public spaces. The future of this legendary hotel has never looked brighter.
The Jefferson Hotel is located in the heart of downtown Richmond, which is one of the nation’s most historic cities. The hotel itself is mere steps from several of Richmond’s storied historic districts, including the Grace Street Historic District, the Broad Street Commercial Historic District, Oregon Hill Historic District, and Monroe Ward. It is also close to numerous historic sites, such as the Tredegar Iron Works and the Virginia State Capitol. While The Jefferson Hotel has been around since the 1890s, the history of Richmond stretches much farther back to 1737 when English colonists laid down its original street grid. The city has been at the forefront of numerous historical moments throughout America’s past. Richmond was the site of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech at the onset of the American Revolution. It also served as the capitol of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War and bore witness to countless battles. It was even involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, when the Richmond 34 famously protested racial segregation at the lunch counter of the Thalhimers department store. Richmond is truly a fascinating destination rich in history.
Hailed by the U.S. Department of the Interior as “one of the nation’s most outstanding examples of late-19th century eclectic architecture,” The Jefferson Hotel is a structural masterpiece. Many different architectural flavors permeate throughout the building, most notably Beaux-Arts and Spanish Baroque-style design aesthetics. The first architects to oversee the development of The Jefferson Hotel’s rare appearance was the New York-based firm Carrère and Hastings, which later designed the New York Public Library (now a National Historic Landmark). When the building underwent its second round of renovations in 1905, a new architect named J. Kevan Peebles oversaw the project. Peebles had by that point attracted nationwide praise for his prior work on the Virginia State Capitol. The Jefferson Hotel has since undergone three additional renovations with the most recent starting in 2013.
Ginter spent an estimated $5 to $10 million to finance The Jefferson Hotel’s initial construction. He used his money to lavishly outfit the building with the finest artwork and amenities of its day. Ginter imported exotic vegetation from throughout Latin America and place rare antiques in all the public spaces. An exquisite library appeared inside the structure, as did a ladies’ salon, a grill room, and several billiard halls. Ginter even installed a series of luxurious Turkish and Russian baths throughout the building. The Jefferson Hotel was also among the first structures in downtown Richmond to feature electricity, working telephones, and indoor plumbing.
Perhaps the most ostentatious aspect of The Jefferson Hotel when it first opened was the life-size replica of its namesake, Thomas Jefferson. The centerpiece of the hotel’s main lobby, the statue of the nation’s third president cost Ginter nearly $12,000 to make. He commissioned a local sculpture named Edward V. Valentine for the project, who subsequently used Carrara marble as his material. Valentine was so fully invested in producing an accurate portrayal of Jefferson that he incorporated the design of some of president’s actual clothing into the statue.
Many of The Jefferson Hotel’s interior spaces are an everlasting tribute to the meticulous work done by the original architects. No room reflects this sentiment better than the marvelous Palm Court. The focal point of the Palm Court at The Jefferson Hotel is the circular stained-glass that completes a majority of the room’s 35-foot ceiling. Surrounding the room are 12 stained-glass windows, each vibrant design featuring The Jefferson’s original logo, similar to the crest that is used today. These side-panel windows are believed to been crafted by the famous artisan Louis Tiffany. The stained-glass elements were added to the lobby following the 1901 fire which destroyed two-thirds of the original 1895 structure. The 40-foot ceiling of The Jefferson’s Rotunda lobby features both a massive stained-glass skylight as well as intricately carved plaster featuring an elegant palm frond motif.