Hotel History

Hotel History: West Baden Springs Hotel

Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 149 - By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
West Baden Springs Hotel
West Baden Springs Hotel

HTrends 1. Hotel History: West Baden Springs Hotel, West Baden, Indiana

In 1855, the town of Mile Lick, a mile north of the giant salt lick and springs in French Lick was renamed West Baden. In 1888, Lee Wiley Sinclair acquired controlling interest in the West Baden Hotel. Sinclair promoted his hotel as a cosmopolitan resort including a casino known as "The Carlsbad of America", an opera house, a two-deck covered oval bicycle and pony track. The Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates held their spring training in the area. Unfortunately, the entire resort and attractions burned down in 1901. Sinclair offered the West Baden property to Tom Taggert, owner of the French Lick Springs Hotel but Taggert refused and instead expanded his hotel.

Lee Sinclair was rejuvenated by Taggert's rejection and embarked on a major construction project in an attempt to surpass the French Lick Springs Hotel. The major attraction of the new hotel was the circular building topped by a spectacular dome, designed by architect Harrison Albright which was the world's largest free-spanning dome until the Houston Astrodome in 1965. Later in his career Albright designed the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego, California.

West Baden, in competition with French Lick, marketed its mineral water under the brand name "Sprudel Water" with an elf named Sprudel. French Lick sold "Pluto Water" using a red devil trademark. The new hotel opened on September 15, 1902 and was called "the Eighth Wonder of the World". These two spectacular but illegal resort/casino hotels in southern Indiana were favorite destinations for the famous and wealthy such as New York Governor Al Smith, General John J. Pershing, writer George Ade, entertainer Eva Tanguay, Diamond Jim Brady, Al Capone, boxers John L. Sullivan and James J. Corbett and many more.

After Sinclair died in 1916, his daughter Lillian and her husband Charles Rexford ran the hotel until 1923 when their marriage broke up and the hotel was sold to Ed Ballard. The Great Depression caused such a sharp reduction in business that Ballard closed the hotel in 1932 and in 1934 donated it to a Christian religious group.

The Jesuit seminary operated for thirty years until the 1963/64 school year when it was sold to Macauley and Helen Dow Whiting who donated it to Northwood Institute, a private business college founded in Midland, Michigan. The school operated until 1983 when it was purchased by H. Eugene MacDonald who could not secure financing for a hotel conversion. The hotel's ownership was tied up in litigation for almost a decade. After years of deterioration, Minnesota Investment Partners (MIP) purchased the hotel but could not get approval for a "Boat on a Moat" casino. Finally in 1996, the Cook Group, Inc. spent $30 million to stabilize the structural integrity and began exterior restoration of the hotel and outbuildings, garden, interior atrium, lobby, dining room and meeting rooms.

However, it was not until the Indiana legislature approved casino gambling in 2003 that the West Baden Springs Hotels was fully renovated and reopened in 2006. The hotel had been closed for 75 years. The new West Baden Springs Hotel features six circular stories with 243 rooms and suites including 40 balcony rooms that offer a spectacular view of the atrium. The cost of the complete restoration was $100 million.

Located less than a mile from the French Lick Springs Hotel and French Lick Casino, the West Baden Springs Hotel is an architectural marvel which offers a two-level natatorium with dedicated spa, fine dining restaurant and five retail outlets. The unique natatorium/spa features a 12,000-square-foot indoor pool and 8,000-square-foot spa, including treatment rooms, relaxation rooms and a state-of-the-art fitness center. West Baden hotel guests are able to take advantage of all of French Lick Resort Casino's amenities, including the 42,000-square-foot casino, horseback biking, hiking, tennis, bowling and 63 holes of championship golf at Peter Dye and Donald Ross-designed courses.

The West Baden Springs Hotel is a National Historic Landmark and is a member of Historic Hotels of America.

*excerpted from my book "Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi" (AuthorHouse 2013)


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About Stanley Turkel, CMHS

Stanley Turkel is a recognized consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases and providing asset management and hotel franchising consultation.

Prior to forming his hotel consulting firm, Turkel was the Product Line Manager for worldwide Hotel/Motel Operations at the International Telephone & Telegraph Co. overseeing the Sheraton Corporation of America. Before joining IT&T, he was the Resident Manager of the Americana Hotel (1842 Rooms), General Manager of the Drake Hotel (680 Rooms) and General Manager of the Summit Hotel (762 Rooms), all in New York City.

He serves as a Friend of the Tisch Center and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. He served for eleven years as Chairman of the Board of the Trustees of the City Club of New York and is now the Honorary Chairman.

Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. More than 275 articles on various hotel subjects have been posted in hotel magazines and on the Hotel-Online, BlueMauMau, HotelNewsResource and eTurboNews websites. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute ("Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry" and "Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi"). A third hotel book ("Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York") was called "passionate and informative" by the New York Times. All of these books can be ordered from the publisher by visiting www.stanleyturkel.com.

Turkel was designated as the 2014 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.


Stanley Turkel, CMHS
917-628-8549
stanturkel@aol.com
www.stanleyturkel.com



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