Carolina Inn added to national register

The Carolina Inn on the University campus has been added to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its historic and architectural significance.

The national register, authorized by Congress in 1966 and administered by the National Park Service, is the nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.

A plaque marking the inn's spot on the register was unveiled Oct. 5 at a ceremony that included Betty Rae McCain, secretary of the state Department of Cultural Resources, Interim Chancellor William O. McCoy, Trustee Chair Anne Cates and Inn Manager Creston Woods.

"As it has been for three-quarters of a century, the inn remains important to the University as both a center of social life and a source of funding for the library's North Carolina Collection," McCoy said. "It is gratifying for the inn's historical significance to the community, state and nation to be recognized in this exciting way."

The inn is the third building on the campus and the fifth in Chapel Hill to make the National Register of Historic Places. Others are Old East Residence Hall, the nation's first state university building, and the original Playmakers Theatre, both on campus, as well as the old Chapel Hill Town Hall and the Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church.

The Carolina Inn turns 75 years old this year, having welcomed its first guests in late November 1924. It was built by John Sprunt Hill of Durham, an 1889 graduate of the University who founded Central Carolina Bank. Hill was concerned about the lack of acceptable lodgings for returning alumni and University visitors. In 1922, he retained T.C. Atwood Co. of Durham and its principal architect, Arthur C. Nash, to design and build the inn.

Hill donated the inn to the University in 1935 to serve as "a cheerful inn for visitors, a town hall for the state, and a home for returning sons and daughters of alma mater." He stipulated that profits from the inn's operation be used to support part of the campus library now called the North Carolina Collection.

The inn always has been a favorite gathering place. Former UNC President Bill Friday has called it "the University's living room."

For decades, the inn was where faculty, students, alumni and local residents could meet and socialize. It became one of the most popular places in the state for balls, banquets and weddings, academic conferences and business meetings.

Located adjacent the University off Cameron Avenue and South Columbia Street, the inn was built in the Southern Colonial style, a variation of the Colonial Revival style popular nationally in the early 1900s. The inn incorporates elements of antebellum Southern plantation houses with Georgian and neoclassical features found in the Northeast. The original front of the building facing Cameron Avenue was modeled after the Potomac River front of Mt. Vernon.

While the inn's interior has undergone several major renovations, many original features remain. For example, the 1924 ballroom, now called the Old Well Room, retains its original dimensions and original detailing including stylized columns. When the inn opened, it had 52 guest rooms, all with private baths. Major new wings were completed in 1940, 1970 and 1995. In 1970, the lobby was moved from the north side of the building to its present location on the west side.

The 1995 addition accompanied a renovation that added modern features and restored much of the inn's original warmth and grandeur. The expansion and renovation cost $16.5 million. Now the inn has 184 guest rooms and suites and more than 12,500 square feet of function space. The American Automobile Association awarded four-diamond ratings to the inn and its Carolina Crossroads restaurant.

In 1993, the University contracted with Doubletree Hotels Corp. to manage the inn. Revenues the University receives from Doubletree's operation of the inn continue to support the library's North Carolina Collection.

Earlier this year, the inn was accepted into Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Many hotels in the program are on the National Register of Historic Places.

"It is wonderful that the inn's addition to the national register comes just as we are about to celebrate our 75th year," said Creston Woods, the inn's general manager. "The listing commemorates the inn's rich history and its special place in the life of the University and the state. Heritage tourism has blossomed in recent years. Many people now want to stay not only in very nice places, but in places of historic and cultural significance. We are pleased that the Carolina Inn is now officially recognized as one of those places."

Kenneth Zogry, a University doctoral student and a historic property expert, wrote the inn's national register application as well as a new book about the social, architectural and decorative arts history in the inn. The University's Living Room: A History of The Carolina Inn will be published later this fall to mark the hotel's 75th anniversary.

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