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The Scarlet & Black

Hotel Grinnell wins award for historic preservation

Angela Harrington stands in a hallway in Hotel Grinnell. Photo by Scott Lew.

Hotel Grinnell was recently granted the 2018 Preservation at its Best Award on Sept. 2, an annual award given by Preservation Iowa, an organization that honors well-protected historical sites throughout the state. This builds upon the many awards Hotel Grinnell has received since its opening on Sept. 7, 2017.

The building in which Hotel Grinnell is housed used to be a junior high school from 1921 to 1978 and was later gifted to the city and used as extra office space. The 65,000 square-foot building remained rarely used, as the large-scale infrastructure required huge maintenance efforts. This resulted in its deterioration. But in 2009, owner and operator of the hotel, Angela Harrington — a member of the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce at that time — took the “heavy lift” to start the restoring process for the old school building to construct an event center for the community. After looking for an individual investor for three years, Harrington finally reached out to Steve Holtze, an alumnus and trustee of Grinnell College, who bought the building and invited Harrington to be the co-owner and operator. After years of reconstruction, the historical building finally opened again and welcomed its guests.

“We’ve won international interior design award; we were highlighted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune; we are now Orbitz’s [a travel website] most unique hotel in Iowa. You know a lot of great things have happened, but somehow the Preservation Award means the most, because these awards know how difficult these projects are — to repurpose an old building and figure out how to make it adapt to a new use,” said Harrington.

“It is an amazing journey, but not an easy one,” Harrington said.

Recalling the difficult reconstruction process the school building went through, Harrington said, “It’s about preserving everything that’s left to preserve.”

Roaming through the hotel, one can easily see the scattered details which memorialize the old school days: the swinging periodic table on the wall near the bar, the ballroom with yellow basketball court lines, the white chalk ash on the black board hanging in the lobby and a red apple near a quill-pen on the table of the guest room.

“[With] all these special touches, we [we were able to] really pay homage to the building’s history,” Harrington said.

Angela Harrington stands in a hallway in Hotel Grinnell. Photo by Scott Lew.
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    Gerry MooreSep 26, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    Visiting our Freshman granddaughter for the first time at Grinnell College. This allows us to be close to campus. I am much in favor of restoration over demolition. Very unique hotel concept.