By Demetra Aposporos
Each February, the pilgrims arrive en masse to The Grove Park Inn. They come to attend the Arts & Crafts Conference—an annual event since 1987—and pay homage to the building itself. What makes the Inn so special? Plenty.
Grove Park was created from boulders blasted out of Sunset Mountain, where it sits. It was built by hand, rising over a 12-month period from groundbreaking to grand opening, which was no small feat in 1913. Boulders forming the exterior walls arrived on site via “automobile train”—a Packard truck pulling up to 15 wagonloads of stone at a time—and were laid with their rough edges facing outwards. This detail was expressly ordered by architect Fred Seely, who implored that “not a piece of stone should be visible to the eye except the time-eaten face given to it by the thousands of years of sun and rain that had beaten upon it as it had lain on the mountainside.”
These natural boulders, combined with the inn’s wide, low-slung stature and undulating cottage-style roof, make the place feel as though it melds into its surroundings, and speaks to an honesty of materials, a fundamental tenet of the Arts & Crafts movement.
When Grove Park opened its doors in July of 1913, it was billed as “the finest resort hotel in the world,” and was outfitted with quality mission oak pieces from the White Furniture Company and lighting from the Roycrofters’ Copper Shop. Many of these pieces are still there, while others have been replaced through the years with antiques or newer offerings from L. & J.G. Stickley, giving Grove Park one of the largest collections of Arts & Crafts furnishings anywhere.
Following an Arts & Crafts tradition, inspirational mottos and quotes were painted on rocks interspersed throughout the building. One of these appears above the north fireplace, one of two massive hearths flanking the main lobby, or Great Hall, each of which burns 8′-long logs and is large enough for several grown men to stand inside. Directly above the Great Hall sits the Palm Court, an open, airy courtyard topped by a huge skylight, and the site of one of Grove Park’s many restoration stories.
In early pictures, a stenciled motif is visible on the walls surrounding the Palm Court, but during the 1950s, the pattern disappeared. In the early 1990s, the hotel management, eager to restore the stencils, consulted Mark-Ellis Bennett, a local craftsman certified in historic preservation from the City and Guilds of London Institute. Bennett meticulously removed 16 layers of paint (sometimes using instruments as small as dental picks) to uncover an original stenciling sample and verify its palette—no easy feat, since the colors had changed from years of light deprivation.
After unveiling the original motif along one wall, Bennett took photographs, enlarged them to life size via a copy machine, and isolated the patterns—two design elements that repeat across the wall. Then, he explains, “during the blizzard of 1993, I cut 30 templates, which I used to reproduce the pattern.” It took Bennett 9 months to complete the stencil restoration using smooth textured paint, raw umber glaze, and a finishing sealer, all of which has held up beautifully. The original stenciling pattern Bennett uncovered was left on one wall so visitors could compare it against his work, and the Palm Court has become a popular destination on the hotel’s tours.
Today, while some visitors travel to Grove Park for its breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge mountains (best enjoyed over a drink on the expansive original terrace off of the Great Hall), and others are in search of pampering at the newly built, world-class spa, these take a backseat for the Arts & Crafts faithful. They come, year after year, to admire the building and all it represents—the embodiment of a movement’s ideals.Published in: Old-House Journal July/August 2008