9 Magnificent Ceilings and Domes from Historic Hotels of America
This story was produced in collaboration with Katherine Orr and Amber Freeman from Historic Hotels of America.
The first thing that everyone should do when they step inside a historic hotel is look up. It’s easy to treat a hotel as a way station, but these impressive historic sites are often an essential stop on your itinerary, with incredible architectural detail, wonderful atriums, and stained glass just waiting to be enjoyed.
Each year Historic Hotels of America releases its list of 25 Most Magnificent Ceilings and Domes. This list is released during Preservation Month in May to bring attention to the architectural wonders and artistic talent preserved at the iconic and legendary hotels inducted into Historic Hotels of America.
We’ve selected nine magnificent domes and ceilings from the 2023 list to give you a taste of the beauty and grandeur that these historic hotels have to offer.
French Lick Springs Hotel (1845)—French Lick, Indiana
Located in Indiana, the Baroque-style murals on the ceiling of the mezzanine level of the French Lick Springs Hotel are visible by looking up in the lobby. As a nod to the area's fame for producing mineral-fortified “Pluto Water” for over a century, the six murals depict the Greek and Roman myth of Hades/Pluto, the god of the underworld, and the creation of the Earth’s seasons. A group of artists from Conrad Schmitt Studios invested 1,500 hours in designing, painting, and installing the murals during the 2005-2006 renovation that restored French Lick Springs Hotel to its original grandeur. French Lick Springs Hotel was inducted into Historic Hotels of America in 2000.
Hamilton Hotel (1851)—Washington, D.C.
Located five blocks from the White House in Washington, D.C., the Hamilton Hotel is no stranger to pomp and circumstance. This historic hotel, which is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, was designed by Jules Henri de Sibour, the École des Beaux-Arts-educated French architect behind some of the capital city’s most distinguished buildings. One of its most notable and historic spaces is the rotunda; the large, domed entryway greets guests in truly grand fashion as they walk through the main door. The distinctive white dome over this grand arrival corridor is evocative of the halls of government that are dotted throughout Washington, D.C. Hamilton Hotel was inducted into Historic Hotels of America in 2021.
Capital Hotel (1873)—Little Rock, Arkansas
When the Capital Hotel—which opened in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1873—was reimagined at the turn of the 20th century, the lobby received the most attention. By increasing the height of the lobby into a two-story edifice, architect George Mann created space for a brilliant mezzanine. However, the new lobby’s most striking component was the atrium and its stained-glass skylight—with a center image of the Arkansas State Capitol (which at the time was still under construction).
There are not many surviving accounts of the construction of the stained-glass work, but it appears that each piece was hand-painted, due to the visible paint strokes, which are visible when studying the details that pop out from the other stained glass throughout the hotel. Capital Hotel, sometimes referred to as Little Rock’s “Front Porch,” was inducted into Historic Hotels of America in 2009.
Palace Hotel (1875)—San Francisco, California
Unveiled in 1909, the breathtaking glass dome of The Garden Court Restaurant is the crown jewel of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California. Spanning 110 feet by 85 feet, and soaring 42 feet above the floor, with 70,000 pieces of glass, the dazzling dome cost an estimated $7 million when it was added over 110 years ago by architectural firm Trowbridge & Livingston. Designated San Francisco Landmark Number 18 by the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board in 1969, the Garden Court’s dome has witnessed its fair share of memorable moments, from a 1915 dinner honoring Thomas Edison, complete with menus in Morse code, to a 1959 banquet welcoming Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to the United States. The Palace Hotel was inducted into Historic Hotels of America in 2010.
The Pfister Hotel (1893)—Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Anyone who walks into the lobby of The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and looks up to view its ceiling receives a greeting from the heavens. Above the ornate chandeliers, and surrounded by gilded ornamental plaster, a beautiful, painted blue sky is punctuated by frothy white clouds and playful cherubs. Naturally, one might think that it is a beautiful, classical fresco original to the Romanesque Revival-style building, which opened in 1893. In fact, this stunning feature is relatively new. Created in 1993, the painted ceiling is a fanciful nod to the skylight that was once in its place, before it was enclosed and painted white. The Pfister Hotel has been a member of Historic Hotels of America since 1994.
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St. Louis Union Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton (1894)—St. Louis, Missouri
Immediately upon entering the front doors of the grand St. Louis Union Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, guests are mesmerized by the majestic Grand Hall, with its sweeping archways, gold-leaf detailing, mosaics, and art-glass windows. First opening as a train depot and railway hotel in 1894, local architect Theodore Link designed the magnificent Grand Hall and its stunning ceiling—reaching 65 feet at its peak—so that it would inspire the countless travelers that were expected to arrive daily. The St. Louis Union Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, shows some of the finest elements of Romanesque Revival-style architecture. The St. Louis Union Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, was inducted into Historic Hotels of America in 2014.
The Union Station Nashville Yards (1900)—Nashville, Tennessee
Visitors arriving at The Union Station Nashville Yards, former railroad terminal-turned-historic boutique hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, experience the train station as their destination, rather than a stop along the way. The “pièce de résistance” of this Nashville icon, which opened on October 9, 1900, is the grand ceiling that towers 70 feet over the hotel’s main lobby. Designed by Richard Montfort, the first chief engineer for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, the entire masterpiece encompasses over 6,000 square feet, and is protected by a 25-foot void above.
A historic preservation “win,” the majestic ceiling was almost lost when the station closed in October 1979 due to a decline in passenger rail travel. Fortunately, the building’s caretaker had the foresight to store its stained-glass panels in the basement, ultimately saving them for the enjoyment of the guests that now walk beneath them today. Listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and the Union Station Nashville Yards was inducted into Historic Hotels of America in 2015.
The Plaza (1907)—New York, New York
The Palm Court of The Plaza Hotel has been a fashionable New York City destination for elegant luncheons and afternoon teas for over a century, ever since the iconic luxury hotel opened in 1907. The centerpiece of The Palm Court is the restaurant’s astounding stained-glass dome, which was originally designed by architect Stanford White in 1907. The current glass dome is a recreation and restoration of the original dome, completed a century later in 2007 by the Botti Studio of Architectural Arts. Although a 1921 addition to the room blocks natural light from flowing in, guests dining below the leaded-glass beauty can still luxuriate in the sunlight, thanks to artificial lights which were installed above the dome during its renovation. The Plaza was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986 and was inducted into Historic Hotels of America in 1991.
The Broadmoor (1918)—Colorado Springs, Colorado
Constructed between 1917 and 1918, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been hailed as the “Grande Dame of the Rockies” for more than a century. Many Italian artisans and craftsmen were hired to construct the unique resort hotel, which draws heavily upon the aesthetics of the Italian Renaissance. One of those artists, Giovanni Smeraldi, created some of the stunning ceilings that still grace the historic hotel to this day.
A master of the Renaissance style, who perfected his craft in Rome, Smeraldi painted a number of frescoes and ceilings throughout the sprawling resort. Smeraldi created a bas-relief molding above the lobby elevator in the style of renowned Italian sculptor Luca della Robbia. The artist’s intention was for this to symbolize The Broadmoor being a combination of Western hospitality and European elegance. The Broadmoor has been a charter member of Historic Hotels of America since its induction in 1989.
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