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The Statler Hotel
Designed by George C. Post and built in 1917 as the fourth member of the famous Statler chain, this was once among the grandest hotels in the city. Modeled on its predecessors in Cleveland and Detroit, it was the country's first air conditioned hotel, and a model of elegance.

The Statler chain had been gone for ten years in 1966, when the building was renamed the Gateway Hotel, the name under which I first encountered it. It limped along for two decades, closed for renovations in 1987, and never reopened. With the opening of the Convention Center right across the street, and developers clambering for more hotel room space, the Gateway seemed a blatantly obvious choice for renovation. Yet it sat vacant for years after the completion of the America's Center, subject to decay and several fires.

After several years, the city at last took advantage of the obvious potential of the old Statler building: $5 million was voted in November 1999 to begin cleanup work.

Gallery: Abandonment, 1997-2001

Aided by the state's recent historic renovation tax credit, the city in 1999 gave the go-ahead to a renovation plan to use the Gateway as part of a Marriott Renaissance complex, oriented to serve the convention center. The project also makes use of considerable government and bond money. Renovation began in earnest in early 2002.

The renovation plan is one put forward by Historic Restoration of New Orleans. As originally envisioned, the plan included a new, 38-story tower to be attached to the rear of the Gateway, and the renovation of the vacant Lennox apartment building (across Washington Avenue from the Gateway), forming a complex with over a thousand rooms in four buildings, a cobblestone plaza, a garage west from the Statler, and pedestrian links to the adjacent American Theater and the nearby Doubletree Mayfair Hotel.

Gallery: Renovation, 2001-2002

In final conception, the new tower's height has been considerably reduced to a height more respectful of the old Statler building; the "cobblestone plaza" has yet to materialize. Otherwise, however, the renovation has been carried out as announced.

A new restaurant occupies the original lobby space; the main entry to the building is now through a multilevel space in the new eastern addition. The historic grand ballroom at the top has been restored and returned to use.

When the Statler was renovated, it was a heartening beacon in a downtown suffering from abandonment and neglect. Today, it seems more of an advance guard, fortelling the renovation of a half dozen buildings in the immediate area.

Lest that be taken for granted: in fall of 2005, downtown Detroit lost its old Statler Hotel to the wrecking ball.

Gallery: Restored, 2003-2006

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