North Carolina’s Grove Park Inn. – Review

North Carolina’s Grove Park Inn. – Review – hotel review

Ellen Clark

Dating back to 1913, this grand lady commands grand views of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains

RESORT OF THE MONTH

Rising out of the hills like some kind of eccentric, manmade, red-topped rocky outcropping, The Grove Park Inn Resort has been the grande dame of Ashville, North Carolina, for almost 90 years. Backed by acres of tree-studded hills and fronted by a velvety-carpeted golf course, it stands alone, solid, imposing, and unique.

When the Inn opened its doors in 1913, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan delivered the dedication address. He said of the six-story, 150-room hotel built in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, “Today we stand in this wonderful hotel, not built for a few, but for the multitudes that will come and go. I congratulate these men. They have built for the ages.”

The Grove Park Inn was the brainchild of Edwin Wiley Grove, inventor of a turn-of-the-century patent medicine intriguingly titled Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic. He was drawn to Asheville by the area’s climate and beauty. Far enough south to escape the harsh Northern winters and high enough, at more than 2,000 feet, to be spared some of the brutal Southern summer heat and humidity, the city is surrounded by two of the country’s loveliest mountain ranges, the Blue Ridge and the Great Smokies.

When Grove decided to build a hotel on the property he’d bought on Sunset Mountain, no expense was spared. Enormous boulders were hauled to the site by wagon trains and were individually fitted into place by Italian stonemasons and local laborers. The roof’s wire-mesh, concrete, and lumber frame was covered with individually laid red tile shingles. The interior included a 120-foot lobby with facing massive fireplaces, each 36 feet wide and constructed of 120 tons of granite boulders, with chimneys that housed elevators. Furniture, lighting fixtures, and accessories were handcrafted by scores of artisans in the emerging Arts and Crafts style.

Early guest registers are liberally sprinkled with famous names such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Houdini, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. And, at last count, the hotel had hosted eight American presidents, not to mention scores of celebrities from Burt Reynolds to Richard Simmons.

The hotel flourished until the late 1920s when the Great Depression, changes in ownership, and the impact of World War II took its toll. Things looked bleak for the once grand resort until in 1955 it was bought by Dallas entrepreneur Charles Sammons. Under his ownership the Grove Park was not only restored to its original grandeur, but far beyond.

The original building and the surviving Arts and Crafts furniture and fixtures were restored, maintaining such a high degree of historical integrity that the Grove Park Inn has been included in the National Register of Historic Places. An adjoining country club, complete with golf course, pool, and clubhouse, was purchased, two wings of guest rooms were added, and the Indoor Sports Center was constructed. By 1988, the Inn had grown from its original 150 guest rooms to a 510-room resort with four restaurants, two ballrooms, and a staff of nearly 900 employees.

The Inn once favored tranquil pursuits like billiards and bowling, but today’s travelers have more vigorous choices. No problem working off any extra calories picked up in the hotel’s excellent restaurants. There are indoor and outdoor tennis courts and swimming pools. The Indoor Sports Center has racquetball courts, aerobics classes, and a gym with a full range of equipment. The Donald Ross-designed golf course has subtle bentgrass greens that place the emphasis on accuracy rather than power, making it a course for all levels.

In the early days children were discouraged from visiting the hotel. Fred Seely, Grove’s son-in-law and the hotel’s first general manager, wrote, “Not that we dislike children, but we wish to maintain a place where tired and busy people may get away from excitement and all annoyances and rest their nerves.”

Today, families are welcomed. There are day and evening supervised programs for children, and at Christmas time the place is a kid’s paradise. Christmas trees, all individually decorated, are everywhere, including a 25-footer in the Great Hall. There are carolers, dozens of gingerbread houses on display, and the hotel’s cuddly holiday ambassador, Major Bear, ambles along the hotel corridors, greeting all he passes.

As the millennium approached, a whole new set of additions and improvements, at a cost of $24 million, began. The distinctive roof was restored, using more than 400,000 tiles weighing more than a million pounds, the Indoor Sports Center was renovated, and, this fall a state-of-the-art spa will open its doors.

In order not to obstruct the Inn’s views, most of the spa will be underground, accessible by either the first floor entrance or underground tunnels. Stone walls and tranquil pools will create a grotto-like setting, while a glass atrium bathes the interior in natural light.

What Edwin Wiley Grove would think about a multi-million dollar spa one can only imagine, but surely he would be pleased that, almost 90 years from its conception, his dream hotel remains a haven for travelers looking for the best.

Contact: The Grove Park Inn Resort (TravelAmerica Magazine), 290 Macon Ave., Asheville, NC 28804; (800) 438-5800. Web site: www.groveparkinn.com. Room rates, through December, start at $125 and go up to $580 for a one-bedroom suite. Lower rates apply from January to late April.

COPYRIGHT 2000 World Publishing, Co. (Illinois)

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group