4 Awesome and Historic Hotels

When it comes to where we rest our heads, sometimes there's just no place like what was once someone else's home.

Photo courtesy GoldenEye Walk in the sandy footsteps of author Ian Fleming and, heck, sleep in his bedroom. Either is sure to provide inspiration and relaxation. Or if Bono, Sting, Ryan Adams or Jay-Z is more your speed, they left their marks here as well. 

Here at HGTV’s FrontDoor nothing excites us more than discovering something unique in the way of shelter. This extends to our homes away from home – where we vacation. And when we find structures so incredible and amazing, as much as we’d like to keep them to ourselves, it’s kind of our duty to share them. 

We searched high and low for unique vacation locations, from snow-capped mountains to prairies filled with wheat, to oceans clear as the sky to gritty city streets. The four diverse properties we uncovered all have one thing in common: Someone used to call them home. 

Photo by: Christian Horan In 1976 Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, purchased the 19-acre GoldenEye property from the Fleming Estate. Blackwell's mother was friends with the late Fleming so it was kept in the "family." Blackwell bought over 30 more surrounding acres and has since grown the property into a world-class resort. Notice the bottle of Blackwell rum on the bar in the Fleming living room, a nice and exceptionally tasty touch. 

Our first stop finds us slightly south of the border down Jamaica way to the former home of the legendary author Ian Fleming. Known as GoldenEye, the estate is located on the North Shore in a village called Oracabessa Bay. Fleming first went to Jamaica while serving in World War II; his operation was code named GoldenEye. He always knew he would return and after the war he purchased 19 private acres and built his beach house of inspiration. 

Fleming penned many of the James Bond novels on the island and played host to the likes of neighbor Noël Coward, Errol Flynn, Truman Capote, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Michael Cain. 

Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records and now liquor baron, purchased the property in 1976, called it his personal escape for a while and then invited the public to join in on the fun. Today the property extends another 30+ acres with new villas and more beachfront. The Fleming Villa remains the most popular rental and numerous celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, Bono, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Ryan Adams and Martha Stewart have checked in for a night or twelve. You can, too. 

Photo courtesy The Artmore Hotel Built in 1924, this room might've been home to one of Margaret Mitchell's colleagues or a contemporary to legendary Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King, Jr. So far the walls aren't talking though it is rumored to be haunted. 

Located in the heart of Midtown Atlanta is a building that looks decidedly out of place and that’s why we love it. Built in 1924, the Spanish Colonial structure was originally an apartment building called the Granada and was the brainchild of Atlanta architects Havis & Constantine. It was in the 20s that this area of Atlanta experienced a construction boom, especially in the adjacent neighborhood known as Ansley Park. 

Sadly, most of the historic homes in Midtown were mowed down in the name of progress, making the Artmore a stucco and red roofed oasis sitting in the shadows of skyscrapers and high-rise condominiums. We can only imagine the cast of characters who called the Granada home in those glory days. 

One notable resident was May Peel Futrelle, one of the 700 passengers who survived the sinking of the Titanic. Her husband Jacques Futrelle was a journalist at the Atlanta Journal and did not survive. It is rumored that the Artmore is haunted, perhaps by one of the former residents. No matter how many Manhattans we suck down at the Art Bar, we still can’t get the walls to talk. 

Located in Kansas City is the historic Raphael Hotel, which also used to be an apartment building. It stands just feet from Country Club Plaza, the country’s first shopping mall designed for car traffic, in an area that was once farm land and dairies as far as the eye could see. 

Photo courtesy The Raphael Hotel In 2006 the hotel went through a top to bottom renovation keeping in mind the building's rich historic past. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

In 1927, the Brothers McCanles of the McCanles Building Company purchased three large plots of land and engaged architect Alonzo Gentry to design a luxurious apartment building that would complement the Spanish and Mediterranean style of Country Club Plaza. The result was christened Villa Serena, a stunning Italian Renaissance Revival-style structure with at least one notable oddity: There was an 8' concrete wall constructed to divide the hotel's two wings as well as two separate entrances. Why? According to Midwestern lore, the McCanles brothers were so distrustful of one another that they wanted to make it easy to literally split the building in half should push come to shove.

In 1928, the Villa Serena Apartment opened and for $70 a month you got maid and laundry service included in the rent. In the 60 and 70s the Villa saw hard times and fell into disrepair. In 1974 it was purchased and saved from destruction, completely renovated and turned into a smaller hotel. In 2005 it changed hands again and saw even more preservation. The Raphael was then named to the National Register of Historic Places. Guests over the years include Carol Burnett, Kanye West, Bill Cosby, Caroline Kennedy, Bernadette Peters, Ariana Grande, Rachel Ray, Giada DiLaurentis and Frank Zappa. 

Rounding out our favorite hotels is the historic Oxford Hotel in Downtown Denver. Built in 1891, the Oxford has seen the best of times and the worst of times. It was erected as a luxury hotel to accommodate the wealthy that had not only benefitted from the California Gold Rush but were also reaping rewards from the Silver Rush taking place in Telluride, Leadville, Aspen and Caribou. 

Miners seeking fortunes often checked in for long term stays, thereby creating more of a boarding house atmosphere at one point. The lobby bird Mikey pays tribute to these miners who would check in with their birds in tow. During WWII it was home to many troops due to the proximity of the train station, Union Station. 

It was also in the 70s that the hotel’s luster began to fade. Downtown Denver turned into Skid Row and things didn’t look so good for the Oxford. In the 80s, however, a multi-million dollar renovation went underway and then a room-by-room restoration. Some of the original building materials were found in the basement and carpet weavers were hired to replicate the hotel’s original carpets. The crowning jewel was the reproduction of the Oxford’s original and unmistakable iron signage.

The Oxford has played host to President Bill Clinton and his wife, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Robert Redford, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Like many of its guests, the Oxford only continues to get better with age. 

Photo courtesy The Oxford Hotel This is the hotel's front entrance looking towards Union Station. Part of the seven-year renovation included recreating the ubiquitous beacon. 

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