Sac Historic House Profile: Thierry Roch of Historic Hotels of America

*Napa River Inn photo courtesy of Historic Hotels of America

Recently I was lucky enough to interview Thierry Roch, Executive Director of the Historic Hotels of America (a Preferred Hotel Group). I like the fact that the HHofA group are helping to raise the profile of smaller historic hotels by associating them with larger more established hotels. Two of the groups member hotels are close to Sacramento, one in Napa and one in Grass Valley. Find out more in the interview:

Q. Welcome, Thierry, and thanks for letting me interview you for Sacramento Historic House. So first off… how are you?

A. Thanks Tracy. I’m doing well and couldn’t be more excited about the bright future for Historic Hotels of America.

Q. Tell me about Historic Hotels of America and how the National Trust For Historic Preservation is involved.

A. Historic Hotels of America is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1989 with 32 original member hotels. The goal was to reach travelers who appreciate a historic travel experience but don’t necessarily consider themselves preservationists. Today, Historic Hotels of America has more than 200 hotels throughout the country including 19 in California.

Q. How are hotels selected? What are some of the things you look for?

To be selected for Historic Hotels of America, a hotel must be at least 50 years old, listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places or recognized as having historic significance. We are looking for authentic hotels that have character, a true sense of place and are recognized and appreciated by locals.

While we are not a luxury organization, we seek hotels that cater to guests from all spectrums. Our hotels range in age and style from the 1651 El Convento, a former Carmelite convent in Puerto Rico, to the 1956 Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Ariz., a mid-century modern hotel. They range in price from $69 per night the LaSalle Hotel in Bryan, Texas, to $12,500 per night for a suite at The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. And, in size from the eight-room American Hotel in Sag Harbor, New York, to the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago with 1639 rooms. We believe diversity in travel experiences is a great thing especially as compared to cookie-cutter hotels.

Q. On my honeymoon, I stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria and dined at The Algonquin – it was heaven. My friends thought I had suddenly aged from thirty-something to sixty-something. Do you think historic hotels suffer from an image of not being as “sexy” as their modern counterparts?

A. We say “history is hot!”

And, our friends at the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado say from “heritage to hip.” Sounds to me like you had a great honeymoon! As I mentioned, Historic Hotels of America offers tremendous variety. Places like the Waldorf-Astoria and the Algonquin are classics with rich histories. Staying, dining or having a drink at a classic hotel is ultimately cool! Other Historic Hotels of America members offer a more modern experience in a classic setting. Someplace like the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale is a mid-century modern hotel with a contemporary twist. The Art Deco Hotel Metro in Milwaukee has the Zen on 7 rooftop spa and garden with a serene reflecting pool and fountain. The Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City reopened in 2007 after being closed for two decades and its bar is the new hot spot!

As thirty-somethings travel more, they will seek authentically rich experiences! Your friends don’t yet know what they’ve been missing!

Q. I agree!  Recently, The Connaught hotel in London underwent a restoration and fans of the hotel’s charm and old fashioned-ness held their collective breath to see how it would turn out. Are there hotels in your group that have done a particularly good job of balancing character, comfort, and technology?

A. I think you will find more and more historic hotels investing to preserve the hotel’s character and what distinguishes it while enhancing comfort and technology. Today’s travelers demand modern amenities. A number of our members have invested significantly. You will notice some of these examples had been closed vacant for decades prior to their recent renaissance. Here’s a few examples (in no particular order).

The Royal Palms in Phoenix, Ariz., offers the perfect blend between old-world charm and gracious hospitality.

The Hotel del Coronado has recently spent $150 million in upgrades and services.

The Stoneleigh Hotel in Dallas reopened last month following a significant renovation.

The Palmer House Hotel in Chicago is in the midst of a significant renovation which is scheduled to be completed soon.

Q. Does your group include hotels in Europe and elsewhere outside the U.S.?

A. Historic Hotels of America does not have member hotels in Europe but has an alliance with a group called Historic Hotels of Europe, a federation of 16 European hotel associations in 16 countries.

We also have an alliance with Historic Hotels of Mexico, an association of hotels and restaurants located in buildings of historical significance including haciendas, palaces, monasteries, convents, fortresses, country estates and more.

Q. Those sound amazing. In this economy, it’s tempting for travelers to “make do” with budget chain hotels. Does your group offer promotions or specials? If so, what’s the best way to find out about them?

A. Five times a year, Historic Hotels of America compiles seasonal rates and packages from a selection of our member hotels. These can be found on our website in the specials and packages section.

Q. I believe the closest Historic Hotel property to Sacramento is the Napa River Inn (pictured above). What can you tell us about the Inn and its history?

A. Actually, we have two hotels really close to Sacramento.

The first the Napa River Inn in Napa. This hotel is part of the revitalization of historic downtown Napa and is a great example of an adaptive use property. Originally the Hatt and Napa Mill Buildings were part of Napa City’s once-thriving Main Street industrial commercial center dating back to 1886. The Napa River Inn opened in 2000 as Napa’s only luxury boutique hotel. It is surrounded by restaurants, cafes, galleries and shops, and nightlife.

The second of our members close to Sacramento is the Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley. This 28-room Victorian property dates from 1862 when the west was young and has hosted characters including Mark Twain, Gentleman Jim Corbett and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. The hotel’s famed Golden Gate Saloon is reportedly the oldest continuously operating saloon west of the Mississippi. As legend has it, not even Prohibition could keep the good times and spirits from flowing.  ##

Thanks again to Thierry Roch for taking the time to have this chat. Check back with the SHH blog for future profiles.

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