The Rise and Fall of One of America's Most Innovative Hotel Chains
Last week, architects unveiled renderings of the Wilshire Grand Tower in Los Angeles, a 71-story edifice that will, once completed, be the tallest on the west coast.
Before building begins, planners will need to remove the remains of the Los Angeles Statler, a hotel that has changed names and owners multiple times since its 1952 debut. Most recently, it was known as the Wilshire Grand. Hardly an architectural icon in a city known for its lively mid-century building stock, the Statler's demolition has come with limited nostalgia.
But the loss of the former Statler further distances the U.S. from one of its first and most pioneering hotel chains.
The chain started as a pop-up concept of sorts, building temporary facilities for visitors to the 1901 Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo and then again for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Profits generated from those ventures led to the first permanent Statler, a 300-room hotel in Buffalo that opened in 1907.
Striving to accommodate an increasingly mobile class of average travelers, the new facility focused on layout efficiencies to save costs while providing services previously reserved for luxury hotels. The first permanent Statler had a bathroom in every room, making it the first chain with such an amenity. Upon first opening, rooms started at $1.50, with Statler coining the slogan "a room and bath for a dollar and a half."
The concept was a success, leading to another Buffalo location and new locations in popular markets like Cleveland (1912), Detroit (1915), and St. Louis (1917, the first hotel with air conditioning). Statler also opened a location in New York (the namesake of Muppet curmudgeon Statler, who along with Waldorf, were both named after Manhattan hotels) and Boston before founder E.M. Statler passed away in 1928.
The chain continued to grow after E.M. Statler’s death, adding locations in D.C., Los Angeles, Hartford, Connecticut, and Dallas. It was purchased by Hilton Hotels in 1954. The $111 million transaction was the largest in hotel history at the time.
Despite its innovative beginnings, many Statler hotels have not aged well. Hilton abandoned all but one of their acquisitions, and many succumbed to the wrecking ball. First to go was the original Statler on the corner of Swan and Washington street in Buffalo, demolished in 1968 and replaced with surface parking until a stadium was built on the site 20 years later. Hartford’s was also demolished for surface parking in 1990, and in Detroit, a former Statler made way for a surface lot in time for Super Bowl XL in January 2006.
But the rest still stand for now. Former Statlers in Boston, D.C., St. Louis, and New York still operate as hotels, though New York’s (now called the Hotel Pennsylvania) is approved for demolition whenever the current owners decide to do so. Cleveland saw its Statler hotel transformed into apartments in 2001.
In Buffalo and Dallas, two former Statlers endured recent periods of high uncertainty. After being included in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "Most Endangered Places" list in 2008, the Dallas Statler Hilton (the first hotel to have elevator music) is now under renovation by local developers. Buffalo’s second Statler, built in 1923 was purchased in a 2011 auction. Since then, only the basement and lobby have been reopened in what is part of a long term project called Statler City.
Below, a look through the Statler hotels of America and what they’ve become: