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Jewel of Jackson

The abandoned King Edward Hotel has been restored into a Hilton Garden Inn.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Ron Word
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When Ron Silverman first walked into the King Edward Hotel in downtown Jackson, Miss., it was a disaster area.

“The first time I saw it, it was knee deep in trash,” said Silverman, senior vice president-regional manager for HRI Properties in St. Louis. He was the owner’s project executive during the reconstruction of the King Edward, “It was a foreboding building.”

The once grand and stately hotel was inhabited only by pigeons, vandals and vagrants. For 40 years it sat empty, and there were calls for the 12-story building to be knocked down.

Throughout the years, the hotel became an eyesore. The lobby looked as if a bomb had exploded. The grand staircase resembled the steps in ruins of ancient Greece. An escalator added during a renovation in 1955, sat in ruins, covered by graffiti.

Fast forward three years and the King Edward has been restored to its glory, returning as the social center for the area around Mississippi’s state capitol as a Hilton Garden Inn. The refurbished hotel has 64 apartment units, 186 guest rooms, a restaurant, coffee shop and bar.

A partnership of Watkins Development, former New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister and New Orleans-based HRI Properties worked two years to redevelop and restore the hotel. Thomas Hamilton & Associates, an architecture and design firm with past experience with HRI on other historic restorations, of Richmond, Va., handled the interior renovations, incorporating Hilton design requirements while preserving the original architectural elements. Clayco Inc. was the general contractor.

The renovated hotel has won several industry awards and the National Trust for Historical Preservation Honor Award.

Ben Allen, former city council president and president of Downtown Jackson Partners Inc., in a letter to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the closed hotel near the state capitol appeared to be a “monument to our failure” and is now “a testament to our success.”

Old photographs and the original plans were consulted during the restoration process, Silverman said.

The first two floors were restored to reflect the grandeur of the 1923-era hotel. Molds were made of old millwork and trim work to recreate the design elements of the neo-classical style designed by New Orleans architect William T. Nolan.

An atrium over the first and second floors, covered over during a 1955 renovation, has been restored. The curved ceiling ballroom on the second floor was recreated using historic photographs. The hotel’s original windows were too far gone to be repaired and they were replaced with energy efficient double-pane wood windows matching the originals in design, Silverman said.

The original marble floor and grand historic staircase from 1923 were also retained. Friezes over elevator doors and the hotel’s restored or recreated.

Historical committees required that the columns in the lobby had to be reproduced and those were done by taking molds of the originals. They also required guestrooms to have wooden trim around the windows.

The King Edward Hotel sign atop the building was restored.

“Renovation work is more costly than new construction,” Silverman said. “It took a lot more money than to build a Hilton Garden Inn.”

In the 40 years since the hotel closed in 1967 due to lack of occupancy, there had been several plans to renovate it, but all were unsuccessful. Silverman said.

The $88 million hotel restoration was partially financed with $33 million in state and federal historical tax credits, Silverman said. Without those tax incentives, it is unlikely that the rehabilitation could have taken place, he said.

Silverman noted that it would be impossible to replace many of the regal old buildings with newer structures.

“We have a passion to preserve these. If you lose them, you lose a part of history that can’t be replicated,” he said.

The first hotel on the site, the Confederate House, was built in 1861. It was burned in 1863 during the Civil War and was replaced by the Edwards House in 1868. In 1923, the hotel was replaced by the present 12-story steel-frame building built with brick and limestone.

It did not get the King Edward hotel name until 1955, during a remodel which included an escalator in the lobby and parking garage.

David Preziosi, executive director of the Mississippi Heritage Trust, talked about the importance of the restoration in a February letter to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“Many said the old building was a relic of the past and should be demolished,” he wrote. “Many didn’t believe in investing so much money into a decrepit building. They were all wrong as despite the years of neglect and numerous odds, the King Edward Hotel is once again a cherished landmark in downtown Jackson thanks to the determination of its developers. This project is definitely a shining example of how historical preservation is a successful tool for revitalizing communities and one that proves on the state and national level that even forty years of neglect and decay can be turned around into a jewel for the community!”

Ron Word
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division
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