Reflections On A Success Story

The renovated lobby and grand stairway of the King Edward Hotel

As I swung open the doors at 235 West Capitol Street on the 4th of January, 2010, I could barely contain myself. The once rotten shell of the King Edward had become a shining beacon of light and warmth. As I hurried to register, I couldn’t help but admire the whole scene. Marble floors gleamed and bright happy faces greeted me at nearly every step. The King is back and downtown Jackson isn’t the same place anymore.

While the hotel is “only” a Hilton Garden Inn, make no mistake that the rooms would do credit to most Hiltons out there.  This is far from the average HGI property. My room was Suite 811, on the northeast corner, and sported great views of a burgeoning skyline and of a city on the move after years of neglect and derision from its neighbors. That the King Edward could rise again had been dismissed by so many, its phoenix-like transformation is all the more stunning. Was I completely happy? As long as I reined in my expectations of what might have been and remained thankful that this ambitious project happened at all- yes. Would I have preferred to see the hotel operated as a Four Seasons, Westin or even as a “standard” Hilton property? Yes again. The reasons for the choice of HGI as operator of the hotel were dictated by reality. The other brands mentioned won’t be seen in Jackson just yet- perhaps some day many years down the road.  As Hilton already operates a full-service property on I-55, they are happy enough to remain there and I’m nearly certain that a non-compete agreement must be in effect.  I’m quickly getting off track with hotel chatter which may bore you.

Original plaster moulding from the mezzanine level

Where was I? The overall quality of the renovation is good if one can accept that certain compromises may have been necessary in order to complete the project. Would I have preferred to see plaster mouldings instead of fiberglass replacements? Of course. Would it have been nice to restore the ornate plasterwork on the lobby ceiling instead of flat drywall with pinlights?  Yes again.  To quibble about details may seem churlish when we are talking about a project of this magnitude and its vital importance to downtown Jackson. Preservation cannot remain static or it may be tossed aside as an irrelevance. My own aesthetic choices may differ in a few places, but for the greatest part, they have got most things right. A bar which pulses with life during the day and even into the night…a ballroom constantly booked with major social events…a gathering place for the city- indeed a living room for downtown Jackson has been achieved. This was no small task and we must thank David Watkins and his partners effusively for making it happen.

The Grand Stairway

The King Edward Grill is a modestly attractive room where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served.  You may want to join the lively crowd in the King Edward Bar instead- and I do mean lively.  The bar has come into its own as a gathering place for Jackson’s new urban set.  They know how to pour a drink and the gumbo’s good too!  What more could you ask?

The King Edward Bar

The Seattle’s Best coffee shop wasn’t quite ready for business during myvisit, but it looked as though they had replicated the original tile floor in the space which once housed the McIntyre Drug Company.  Wouldn’t it have been fun to see a soda fountain here again?  I was shooed out by the manager before I could get many pictures, but that perhaps had more to do with corporate paranoia than with any unfriendliness on the part of the manager.

To continue our tour, we must see the grand ballroom on the second floor.   Again, a few details are not strictly according to the original, but the room is a wondrous space, full of energy from the powerful curves of its ceiling to the jazzy and colorful carpet under the feet.   As in the days of yore, it hops with excitement.  The second floor also contains various meeting rooms, one of which, the Board Room, is a close re-creation of the former Club Room on the southeast corner of the building.  Its dark paneling and beamed ceiling are reminiscent of the days when politicians filled these rooms with the pungent smoke of Havana cigars and felt no remorse about stacking whiskey crates to the ceiling during prohibition.

Suite 811- living room

The smartly appointed elevators have dark wood paneling and brass rails.   These take you upstairs to six floors of rooms and suites.  As noted above, the rooms are light , airy and pleasant.  Residents of the apartments have their own entrance on Mill Street.  The apartments range from studios to one and two bedroom apartments and are competitively priced.  Eventually, the apartments will be sold as condominium units, thus helping to pay for the cost of the whole project.

Want a swim?  There’s a small but attractive indoor pool in the basement, along with a well equipped fitness room.  Residents of the apartments have their own rooftop aerie with a fitness room, party room and a small pool as well.

A few may be wondering about the rooftop sign.  David Watkins fought to keep at least one of the signs and it stands on the east side today.  I’ve been told that restoring the neon would have been prohibitively expensive, so it has been painted with a special fluorescent paint instead.   The old signs were red and the remaining one is white.   I don’t really mind that the sign is not the original color- it’s still visible at night and is a fine beacon for a renovated downtown.  Follow its glow and join the crowd.

David Watkins and the King Edward roof sign

Categories: Cool Old Places, Historic Preservation, Jackson, National Register, Preservation People/Events, Renovation Projects

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