Before They Were Luxury Hotels, These Buildings Were Chocolate Factories, Prisons, and Train Stations
Enjoying “solitary confinement” in a former prison cell may not sound like your idea of an exclusive staycation, but in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, it’s considered the lap of luxury. Formerly Charles Street Jail, The Liberty Hotel is just one property that has completely reinvented itself into modern day, luxury lodging.
You’ve probably seen your fair share of houses made from upcycled shipping containers and garden sheds, but hotels and resorts reign supreme when it comes to transforming existing properties — like prisons and printing presses — into unique accommodations. Along with the rise of Airbnb and more local and experiential-based travel, many hoteliers are moving away from traditional suites and properties, in favor of focusing on what makes a neighborhood unique — and that includes its existing community buildings and heritage houses.
Not only do these rehabbed properties exude charisma by way of their past lives, they’re also a sustainable alternative to new developments, which often lack the charm travelers are yearning for.
Here, we’ve pulled together a handful of hotels that are housed in refurbished buildings. From a former chocolate factory in California to a bath house in Berlin, this is where to stay if you want to peek into a city’s past life without sacrificing luxury.
The Liberty Hotel — Boston
Established in 1851, the storied Charles Street Jail has housed a number of notorious criminals, including John White Webster and the infamous Boston Strangler. After the jail shuttered in 1990, the property was heavily renovated and reopened as a high end hotel in 2007. The Liberty Hotel, as it is now known, is considered to be the height of luxury in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, boasting 298 rooms and suites, and six high end bars and restaurants. However, the hotel holds tightly to its roots— hints of the former prison are apparent in every corner, from the steel-framed windows to the rotunda lobby.
TWA Hotel at JFK — New York City
The TWA Hotel at JFK airport in New York takes everything you thought you knew about generic airport hotels and throws it in the trash. Formerly a TWA air terminal, the completely reinvented property — which was originally designed by American-Finnish architect Eero Saarinen — includes an out of service Lockheed Constellation L-1649A Starliner propeller airplane that has a fresh life as a cocktail bar. Plus, there's a 10,000 square foot observation deck, a pool bar overlooking the JFK runway, and retro rooms and suites that will transport you to another, more glamorous travel era.
Hotel Bel Ami — Paris, France
The historic Hotel Bel Ami can be found tucked into a quiet side street in the artsy Saint-Germain-des-Près on the Left Bank, just around the corner from the well-loved Café de Flore, one of the oldest coffee shops in the city. Constructed in the 18th century, the building originally housed the Imprimerie Nationale state printing works, which was responsible for printing the parliament’s official documentation. Because the 5-star boutique hotel grew out of a former printing company house, it pays homage to its past with a robust library in the lobby, calligraphy-inspired designs in the rooms, and even owes its name to one of the best known works of French literature, "Bel Ami," by Guy de Maupassant.
Detroit Foundation Hotel — Detroit
The Foundation Hotel in Detroit has been a well-loved landmark in the city since it was erected in 1929. The former Detroit Fire Department headquarters, at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Larned Streetfire, still features the iconic arching bay doors and bright red accents, original firehouse brickwork, and salvaged wood in the restaurant that once was the garage that housed the fire trucks. The impressive mix of local history and modern luxury was designed to immerse guests into the beating heart of Detroit, and is apparent all the way down to art-adorned hallways and curated locally sourced amenities (including complimentary Detroit Bikes rentals).
Hotel Oderberger — Berlin, Germany
Easily identifiable thanks to its arched windows and peaked orange roof, Hotel Oderberger is a historic boutique hotel tucked into Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. The "Stadtbad Oderberger" was designed in 1898 by architect Ludwig Hoffmann, and was a free public bath house for nearly a decade before shuttering in 1986. In January 2016, the bath house was reborn as an exclusive 70-room boutique hotel, with the historic swimming hall remaining the star of the property.
The Ovolo Woolloomooloo Hotel — Sydney, Australia
Housed in a century old former naval hub and immigration arrivals point on the Sydney Harbor, the Ovolo Woolloomooloo Hotel bridges the gap between local heritage and modern luxury. The bones of the property still feel distinctly industrial, suggesting not much has changed since its time as a naval hub. However, upon closer inspection visitors will notice cheeky modern updates, including an eclectic collection of designer furnishings that range from art deco to ultra modern, funky wall hangings by local artists, and a smattering of cheerful neon quotes hung throughout the lobby and into the rooms and suites.
Union Station Hotel — Nashville
Located in bustling downtown Nashville, Union Station Hotel was once the stomping ground for busy commuters and travelers at the turn of the 20th century. The former Victorian-era railway station was refurbished nearly a hundred years after its inception, and currently boasts an intimate 125 rooms, including 17 deluxe suites. At the intersection of historic charm and classic luxury, Union Station still resembles a 20th-century train station thanks to original Gothic archways, impossibly high ceilings, ornate wood carvings, and sparkling stained glass windows.
Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square — San Francisco
A former chocolate factory built by Domingo Ghirardelli in 1893, Fairmont Heritage Place in Ghirardelli Square is one of San Francisco’s oldest landmark buildings. The now all-suite luxury hotel offers a complete residence for living and entertaining, alongside Fairmont hotel service and amenities: continental breakfast, daily wine and cheese receptions, and 24-hour butler and concierge services.