Is There Another ‘Ricks Hotel’ In Our Future – Part 2

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Beyond the architectural splendor, interiors, appointments and room comfort, the heart of a hotel must surely be the people who create, staff, and visit from inception to closing. It is their memories that live on after the hotel is gone. We can just imagine the collective sigh across the city of Rocky Mount on Sunday morning, November 24, 1963, when the headline in The Rocky Mount Telegram, read…Ricks Hotel to Close Today After 54 Years. An obituary would read….The Ricks Hotel, Rocky Mount NC, born 1909, died 1963. Cause of death, end of useful years. This thought appeared in a news clipping from the Telegram on Wed., Dec. 4, 1963. I loved the clipping’s description of the hotels contribution to society. “A grand lodging for travelers for many years, home of some citizens, home of civic clubs, site of banquets, dances and other festive occasions, landmark for Rocky Mount and Eastern Carolina, meeting place for conventions and site of many events, which have given wonderful memories to those who knew it.”

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The original structure of stone and pressed brick cost $135,000. Success prompted a second phase built in 1915 at a cost of $40,000. The Ricks was located opposite the Atlanta Coast Line Passenger Station on the corner of S. Main & Hammond streets. The additional plans were drawn by John Stout, Rocky Mount’s foremost architect who deserves a blog post of his own. For now, know that he is credited with the superb architecture of residences of J.C. Braswell, D.D. Cuthrell, F.S. Spruill, Capt. J.D. Bullock, Jr. and Isaac Levy. He also drew the plans for the First National Bank Building, the Phillips Building, the Epstein Building.  Does anyone remember the old ballroom on the 4th floor, the scene for parties like the Carolina Cotillion Club’s Christmas dances?

A quick tribute to Robert Henry Ricks (1839-1920) He became a director (1889) and then president (1899) of the Rocky Mount Mills, the second oldest cotton mill in the state. In 1894 he was named director and vice-president of the Bank of Rocky Mount and in 1902, vice-president of the Washington Cotton Mills in Virginia. In Rocky Mount he established the Ricks Hotel firm and the Thorpe and Ricks Tobacco Company and was involved in many other smaller business enterprises.

20131221_HTP001_1I hope  those of you with memories of The Ricks Hotel will leave them below in the REPLY section to further enhance this post. Thank You!

Remembering The Ricks Hotel – Part 1

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Like a ‘lady of the night’ I am here to lure you into the world of hotels, hoping to catch your imagination. If I could take money from you for the pleasure of these ramblings, I would. You see, I have become a little obsessed about a small, boutique hotel in the Central Historic District of Rocky Mount. I have even picked out the Masonic Lodge Building figuring I could sweet talk the owner, who I haven’t met yet, into becoming a hotel magnate. I fantasize that he will say YES to my simple request to get involved and turn his building into a hotel, a reasonable decision, don’t you think? This ‘lady of the night’ business all started after reading how important the renovation of the  Hotel Poinsett was to the revitalization of Greenville, SC.  (I keep telling you how one thing leads to another in my research; I got interested in historic hotel architecture and architects.)

I had no idea there was a Ricks Hotel or The Cambridge or The Alton in Rocky Mount until I thought to ask John Jesso if there had ever been a fine hotel here. The post card photograph above brought tears to my eyes. “You mean it is gone, as in GONE?”  I am getting ahead of myself….first, buy me a glass of sweet tea at the Poinsett which has become a center piece in the revitalization of downtown Greenville, SC. This will warm you up to the subject of remembering The Ricks Hotel and the need we have today. 

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The Westin Poinsett Hotel is a twelve-story, landmark hotel in downtown Greenville, South Carolina. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Built in1925 by architect, William Lee Stoddart, the architectural style is Beaux-Arts; Skyscraper. It was built at the end of an era during which small Southern cities demanded quality hotels to attract business travelers and symbolize their new urban status. In the 1950s, city hotels lost business to motels, which were located on major highways rather than in the urban core. The city closed the hotel in January 1987.  The hotel was considered one of the most endangered historic structures in South Carolina. In November 1997, Steve Dopp and Greg Lenox, developers of the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston (also designed by William Stoddart), purchased the Poinsett and acquired a franchise from Westin Hotels. The project received about $4 million in tax dollars, and Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits were awarded as part of an approximately $20 million restoration. The rest of the story about The Westin Poinsett, which reopened on October 22, 2000, is fascinating, and proves how important it is for Rocky Mount to have a version of the Ricks Hotel.  Meet me tomorrow for Part 2 as we honor the past and think of the future.

PS: Charles Dunn is posting wonderful hotel pictures mentioned in this post on Way Back When Facebook page. Adding link.

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