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Luxury Hotels With A Past


Stay in a Former Prison…a Gilded Train Station…Even a Grand Old Ocean Liner

Some of the country’s most elegant hotels started out as something else. These luxury lodgings now offer modern conveniences while retaining evidence of their former lives and storied pasts.

All of the following are included in the National Trust for Historic Preservation…


The Union Station Hotel used to be a bustling railroad station that dominated downtown Nashville in the Gilded Age when high society was enthralled by train travel. Opening with great fanfare in 1900, the station was built in heavy-stone Romanesque style featuring multiple turrets and towers, marble floors, two ponds filled with baby alligators and a 65-foot barrel-vaulted lobby ceiling decorated with gold-leaf medallions and luminous Tiffany stained glass. In 1986, the long-abandoned structure was transformed into a posh hotel with 125 guest rooms and 12 suites, no two alike.

Information: 615-726-1001, Room rates are $189 to $399 (double occupancy) per night.


In the early-19th century, when Savannah was the world’s second-largest seaport for exporting cotton, a large cotton warehouse was built on a bluff above the Savannah River. The first two floors were made of stones brought in as ballast by ships from all over the world. Today the warehouse has become an upscale hotel, The River Street Inn.

Taking up an entire block of Savannah’s Landmark district, its five floors are wrapped around a central atrium and surrounded by a system of alleys, walks and bridges known as Factor’s Walk, where prosperous cotton merchants once did their trading. Many of its 86 rooms have wrought-iron balconies overlooking the city’s restored riverfront, including the picturesque River Walk that is lined with shops, restaurants and taverns.

Information: 800-253-4229, $139 to $279 per night.


Once upon a time, the Boston Strangler was on the “guest list” of the notorious Charles Street Jail in Boston. Now law-abiding citizens can do time here, too, because the fearsome lockdown has been converted into the trendy Liberty Hotel. The original iron catwalks have become three stories of balconies around the jail’s soaring 90-foot atrium that now is the hotel’s lobby. An old cell block with barred iron doors and a bluestone floor has been incorporated into a bar and restaurant called CLINK, one of Boston’s top hot spots. Another bar, Alibi, occupies space in the jail’s old “drunk tank.” Most of the 298 guest rooms and suites are located in a new 16-story tower, but a few, modernized and commodious, remain in the original jail area with traces of its true prison past intact.

Information: 617-224-4000, Starting at $349 (double occupancy) per night.


For many years after it was built in 1903, Pershing Hall—the main building in the Presidio of San Francisco, the US Army post overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge—served as barracks for the post’s unmarried officers. Just this April, Pershing Hall opened its doors as a 22-room inn with contemporary furnishings and historic memorabilia. It features an inviting front porch lined with rocking chairs. A free shuttle service connects the inn with downtown San Francisco.

Information: 415-800-7356, $195 to $350 (double occupancy) per night, including continental breakfast.


The Queen Mary, one of the grandest transatlantic ocean liners built in the 1930s, is permanently docked in southern California and reincarnated as a floating hotel. Its 314 staterooms and nine suites have modern amenities, such as air-conditioning, flat-screen televisions and Wi-Fi, but retain their art deco décor, including original artwork and intricate paneling. The ballrooms and other public areas, among them the famous first-class Queen’s Salon, have been restored, but some parts of this ship, such as the teak decks and the lifeboats, are part of the ongoing restoration and preservation plan.

Information: 877-342-0742, $99 to $489 (double occupancy), depending on the class of stateroom.

Source: Joan Rattner Heilman, inveterate traveler and a seasoned journalist. Based in Mamaroneck, New York, she is author of more than a dozen books, including Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can’t Get Unless You’re Over 50. Date: September 15, 2012 Publication: Bottom Line Personal
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