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Just a few years before the Biltmore’s construction, Cole Porter sarcastically remarked, “Of course every town in the country with a sense of decency has a new hotel these days.” Henry James had already wondered if the modern hotel “may not just be the American spirit most seeking and most finding itself.” The Biltmore was, indeed, Providence finding itself. Built through the efforts of the Providence Chamber of Commerce, this was the most ambitious project in the country by such a local group at the time of its completion. Warren & Wetmore, the architects of New York’s most impressive hotels (including the Pennsylvania Hotel, so extravagantly admired by Sinclair Louis’s George Babbit), hit the right note here, if somewhat dryly, with their Neo-Federal skyscraper, which became for a time the city’s tallest building. It commands its position overlooking Kennedy Plaza. This monument to civic ambition immediately became the whole city’s gathering place of choice, the venue for whist clubs, fund-raising events, laborers’ gatherings, and the Debutante Assembly Ball. L.D. Wallick, the hotel’s first manager, established a roof garden, which provided the hotel with fresh flowers, vegetables, eggs, and chicken, at least until the ducks flew south for the winter of 1927, never to return. The hotel remained the city’s finest until it closed in 1975. A group of local businesses formed soon afterward an entity to rehabilitate it and, through the use of a recently implemented Federal tax incentive, the building re-opened in 1979. The glazed and illuminated elevator, here on the exterior between the two wings of the building, was de rigueur in the 1970s, the influence of John Portman’s Hyatt hotels of that era. Its interiors, though somewhat reworked, still retain the original, elaborate detail that loosely interprets motifs from late eighteenth-century England. The top floor ballroom is still as impressive a space as it always has been, both for itself and for its fine views.

– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture

In 2019, The Graduate Hotels purchased and renovated the historic Biltmore. Learn more on their site.

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© 2024 Guide to Providence Architecture. All rights reserved. Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.