“Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.” – Frank Gehry
Anchored within the footprint of Chattanooga’s new West Village district, historic downtown hotel ℹ️ “The Read House” recently celebrated a Grand Opening following an extensive $28 million renovation and rebirth of the hotel to its 1920’s grandeur.
Entrances at “The Read House” are now covered by canopies with historically accurate branding and guests are now greeted at the main entrance on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard by a bellman and valet in period attire.
Once inside the grand lobby at “The Read House,” guests step back into Chattanooga’s “Roaring Twenties” where many historic parties and celebrations took place in what might have been considered the center of Chattanooga’s social life at the time.
Recreating the Spirit and Sense of the Roaring Twenties
Avocet Hospitality Group, which acquired ownership and management of the hotel in 2016 announced it would roll out a multiple-phase, full-scale historic renovation, starting with the ground level space inhabited by Starbucks at the hotel’s Broad Street entrance, followed by the main historic portion of the hotel, and culminating with the upcoming renovation of the Manor Building which was originally added to the hotel’s footprint in the 1960’s.
Headed up by Owner and President of Avocet Hospitality Group Jon Weitz along with Deborah Lloyd Forrest, President of ForrestPerkins based out of Dallas, Texas, the renovation team carefully researched, recreated, and “re-imagined,” as Forrest puts it, the spirit and sense of the original 1920’s floor plan and design. The grand lobby now includes a newly added lobby bar, guilded library seating area, and spacious billiards room—all three reminiscent of the original lobby that welcomed guests and party-goers alike.
“As we researched the history of The Read House, it became apparent that this was the premier place for social gatherings and lavish parties during the heyday of the hotel,” says Weitz, Owner and President of Avocet Hospitality Group, which acquired ownership and management of the hotel in 2016.
Weitz continues, “Almost everyone had a great story of a celebration that had occurred at The Read House. These stories made us realize that The Read House needed to be reborn as a Roaring 20s hotel – Gatsby style.”
Other public gathering spaces in the historic hotel, including the Silver Ballroom and the Green Room, have undergone detailed restoration including stripping, cleaning, and polishing the original Russian Walnut woodwork and fully repairing the plaster and silver leaf in the Silver Ballroom.
Guest rooms in the historic section of “The Read House” have undergone complete renovation with new floor plans and furnishings, bathroom designs, and luxury amenities.
Remembering a Tale of Two Hotels: From The Crutchfield House to The Read House
The first hotel located at the site of “The Read House” as it is today was originally called “The Crutchfield House,” opened in 1847 by Thomas Crutchfield, and located across from historic Union Station.
“The Crutchfield House” served as a hotel, Civil War Hospital, and the stage where Thomas Crutchfield’s brother, an “uncompromising Union man,” William Crutchfield challenged Confederate Leader Jefferson Davis to a duel. It was a heated moment and although it is said that pistols were drawn, the duel did not come to a head.
Local historians often share this legendary story as a pivotal moment in local Civil War History, which has since been captured and retold through historic displays in the newly renovated hotel as a reminder of the history and the legacy of the building and the people connected with it throughout the years.
According to research by local historian Mary Helms and published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, a staff correspondent for Harper’s Monthly Magazine visited Chattanooga in 1857 and described the lively scene at the Crutchfield House: “The hotel swarmed with people arriving and departing with the trains, east, west, north and south, hurrying to and fro with eager and excited looks. Chattanooga is a new place, apparently just cut out of the woods. It has lately sprung into importance as a point on the great railway thoroughfare connecting the Mississippi River at Memphis with the Atlantic Ocean at Charleston, South Carolina.”
The Crutchfield House, and later The Read House, has played a central role in the life of Chattanooga as a cultural and historic landscape. During the Civil War, “The Crutchfield House” was commissioned as a hospital where both Union and Confederate troops were treated and many died, hence the claims that the hotel remains “haunted” to this day. In 1867, the Tennessee River flooded, rising 57 feet, and it is said that river steamboats paddled by the front door. Later that year, the historic “Crutchfield House” burned to the ground and eventually in 1872 John Read built a new hotel at the location and called it “The Read House.”
In 1976, “The Read House” was protected by the National Register of Historic Places and it remains a Chattanooga icon, having hosted world leaders like Winston Churchill to presidents including Ronald Reagan, to celebrities such as actor Robert Pattinson when he was in Chattanooga filming scenes for “Water for Elephants” in 2010.
Reimagining a Historic Chattanooga Icon
Since “The Read House” as it is today was built and re-opened by Samuel Read in 1926, it has undergone a series of ownership and renovations over the years, but nothing quite as focused and committed to historic detail and authentic experience as this most recent rendition.
Envisoned by Deborah Lloyd Forrest, the rebirth of “The Read House” in all of its historic grandeur began with a thorough review of historic photographs and documents that would help bring the historic context and original design of the building back to life. Forrest has a penchant for hospitality design in the luxury and historic hotel sectors and her repertoire of landmark hotels includes the renovation of “The Empress Hotel” in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“My career has focused on a combination of luxury hotels and a lot of historic hotels,” Forrest says. “The basis for that restoration, recreation, and reimagining is to go back to as many photographs that I can possibly find of the original building when it was first open. Usually these are black and white, but we did find some color photographs of The Read House as well. Our goal is getting back to restoring the original materials as we did in the lobby of the hotel.”
Forrest shares that the Green Room and Silver Ballroom were a true restoration in every sense of the word. From the careful repair and refinishing of the original Russian woodwork in the Green Room to the fresh approach to restoring the Silver Leaf, she says, “it has been completely transformed into something that feels more akin to what it might have been originally—very elegant and a lot of pizzazz.”
For Forrest, one of the most unique aspects of “The Read House” rebirth for her was reconnecting the city to its historic hotel. “What I loved so much about the building and so many of these beautiful hotels that were built during the 20’s and 30’s is the level of detail that we can’t afford to do anymore—the carved plasterwork, the carved woodwork,” Forrest says. “It just makes it a joy to be able to bring that whole experience back to a community and help to give the community back its history and fondest memories, to reconnect the community with a place where some of the most important events in the life of the city and the individual’s lives have happened there.”