The Seelbach Hilton Hotel on 4th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
|Address||500 South 4th Street, Louisville, Kentucky, United States, 40202|
|Opening||May 1, 1905|
|Owner||Hilton Hotels & Resorts|
|Location||500 S. 4th St., Louisville, Kentucky|
|Area||2 acres (0.81 ha)|
|Architectural style||Other, Beaux Arts Baroque|
|NRHP Reference #||75000775|
|Added to NRHP||August 12, 1975|
The Seelbach Hilton is a historic hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, founded by Bavarian-born immigrant brothers Louis and Otto Seelbach. It opened in 1905 as the Seelbach Hotel, envisioned by the Seelbach Brothers to embody the old-world grandeur of European hotels in cities such as Vienna and Paris. To do so in early 20th century Louisville, they employed a French Renaissance design in constructing the hotel. Louis was already a restaurant owner in Louisville when his brother Otto joined him from Germany around 1890, forming the Seelbach Hotel Co. The Company began construction on the hotel in 1903.
The hotel was quickly regarded among the finest hotels in the United States and throughout its long history has been frequented by many notable Americans — for instance F. Scott Fitzgerald, who took inspiration from the Seelbach for a hotel in The Great Gatsby. The hotel is now owned by Hilton Hotels & Resorts.
Louis Seelbach and his brother Otto came from a family in a small, rural town in Bavaria. Emigrating from Germany in 1869 at age 17, Louis Seelbach arrived in Louisville shortly after reaching the United States. He worked for the original Galt House for a time upon his arrival, but after turning 22 in 1874, he realized that his ambitions lay beyond that job. He proceeded to open the Seelbach Bar & Grill that same year, and it quickly became a great success. When coupled with the quickly expanding Louisville population and economy, the success of the restaurant allowed Louis Seelbach to bring his brother Otto over from Frankenthal, Germany to help him open the first Seelbach Hotel. They opened it in 1891 above the Seelbach Bar & Grill on 6th and Main.
The brothers were intent on building Louisville's first grand hotel: a hotel worthy of the opulence present in hotels in Europe. The Seelbachs purchased a piece of property on the corner of 4th and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali Blvd) Streets, broke ground in December 1903, and opened the doors on May 1, 1905, just in time for the Kentucky Derby.
On the opening day, over 25,000 people visited the hotel. The Seelbach hosted a gala that evening, throwing dinner parties in every one of the 150 rooms. The structure incorporated marble from Italy, Germany and France, along with wood from the West Indies and Europe.
The hotel attracted a great number of people in its first two years, and, luckily, the Seelbach Realty Company – formed in 1902 before the property purchase – had been planning from opening day to expand the hotel. On January 1, 1907, the second phase was completed, raising the number of rooms to 500. The lower two floors of the ten-story structure were constructed with stone, while the upper floors were brick. The rooftop garden was also enclosed at this time to make it functional as a winter garden as well. This new and improved Seelbach regularly hosted guests of the Kentucky Derby.
In 1925, Louis Seelbach died while president of the Seelbach Hotel Co., creating a need for new management. On April 1, 1926, Chicago-based businessman Abraham M. Liebling bought the hotel for approximately $2,500,000.
In 1929, the hotel was sold to the Eppley Hotel Company for $2,000,000. Mr. Eppley, of Omaha, Nebraska, owned many hotels throughout the Midwest, but eventually sold The Seelbach Hotel and all his other properties in 1956 to the Sheraton Hotel Corporation (now Sheraton Hotels and Resorts) as part of a $30,000,000 deal. This made the Seelbach part of the second largest hotel sale in all of US history. The hotel was renamed first the Sheraton-Seelbach Hotel and then the Sheraton Hotel.
The hotel was sold by Sheraton in the mid 1970s and regained the Seelbach name. Following a severe economic slump in the nation in 1975, it was forced to close its doors after its owners went bankrupt. For a few years, it lay dormant. Then, in 1978, Louisville native and Hollywood television actor, Roger Davis, decided to intervene and restore the Seelbach. The work began in early 1979 and continued until the grand re-opening on April 12, 1982. The hotel was managed by National Hotels Corporation, a subsidiary of Radisson Hotels and Doubletree Hotels and regained much of its former reputation.
The hotel was bought and sold by a number of corporations' hands after its re-awakening. When MeriStar Hospitality Corp bought the hotel in 1998, it was renamed The Seelbach Hilton. The Seelbach is currently managed by Interstate Hotels & Resorts, under the Hilton Hotels and Resorts flag. Hilton is a subsidiary of The Blackstone Group — it is the parent company of Hilton Worldwide — which bought out MeriStar Hospitality Corp in 2005.
In 2009, the hotel finished its most recent $12 million renovation.
Impact on Louisville
The hotel was built at a time where there was nothing in the area around 4th and Walnut Streets. In fact, the Seelbach brothers were discouraged of building on property so far from the 'center' of Louisville at the time. When the project was proposed, the Mayor of Louisville said, "No one will come to a hotel so far away." However, over the years, Louisville has expanded and the Seelbach Hotel has sat astride one of its booming shopping and business districts. In the timespan between the 1930s and 1960s, the Seelbach Hotel even anchored an area with Louisville's "best shops". Although it fell into disrepair thereafter, today the area is again a bustling cultural and commercial center.
Many US Presidents have chosen to spend time at the hotel while in Louisville, including William Howard Taft (1911), Woodrow Wilson (1916), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1938), Harry Truman (1948), John F. Kennedy (1962), Lyndon B. Johnson (1964), Jimmy Carter (1970s), Bill Clinton (1998), and George W. Bush (2002).
Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz, and Al Capone — who was a frequent guest of the Seelbach — stayed at the hotel, often for secret poker games. One story from the 1920s involves Al Capone sneaking out of the hotel through a series of secret stairways and tunnels when Louisville Police broke up one of these games. Any of the employees will be more than helpful in showing the Al Capone room to you ( as long as it is not occupied ) and giving the history of the room.
F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented the hotel in April 1918, while training for his deployment in World War I. One night after expensive bourbon and cigars however, he had to be restrained and kicked out of the hotel. This experience seemingly did not tarnish his memories however, as he later included a fictional hotel akin to the Seelbach as the setting for the wedding of Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.
The Seelbach offers its guests in Louisville access to its AAA Five Diamond award winning restaurant The Oakroom, fitness center, and valet parking, among other standard features of a luxury hotel.
Restaurants in the Seelbach include the The Oakroom, Otto's Cafe, and Starbucks. The Oakroom is Kentucky's only AAA Five Diamond Restaurant Award winner, one of 44 in the nation while the Rathskellar, decorated with Rookwood Pottery, was a rare and distinctively Seelbach southern-German influenced restaurant. Today the Rathskeller is used for occasional private events. Coming from German, the term "Rathskeller", means "council's cellar" and is a common name in German-speaking countries that refers to a bar or restaurant located in the basement of a city hall (Rathaus). The word "Rath" has nothing to do with the German word "Ratten" (rats) as has been mistakenly reported in some instances.
The Seelbach Hotel was featured in the 1999 Russell Crowe/Al Pacino film "The Insider".
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