From Winecoff to a stylish boutique hotel
Nearly 61 years after horrific fire, reinvented building houses new business
By LEON STAFFORD
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/12/07
If you had asked Tom O'Leary several years ago if he would be standing today in a gleaming lobby in 176 Peachtree Street, he would have thought you were off your rocker.
After all, for more than a decade, the 15-story downtown structure at that address was boarded up, abandoned and crumbling. The only signs of life were the homeless who sometimes took refuge there to ask passersby for spare change.
But here O'Leary is today, checking last-minute preparations for the building's official opening on Monday as The Ellis, the new boutique hotel housed in the structure some know as the Winecoff Hotel, site of the nation's deadliest hotel fire.
After years of a $26.8 million renovation that saw the building gutted with only its shell remaining, The Ellis is ready for business, said O'Leary, the hotel's general manager.
"This is a relaxed, exciting destination that is different from the other hotels downtown," O'Leary said. "It's quaint, it's small, it's not impersonal."
Designed with a contemporary flair— the walls and floors are deep brown and the furniture retro — the Ellis features 127 rooms with Ostrich leather headboards set against bamboo ascent walls, flat screen LCD TVs, radios with iPod docks and wireless Internet. There are two meetings rooms, a business center, a gym and a restaurant. And for security-minded women travelers, one floor has been set aside for them exclusively.
The reinvention of the building as The Ellis will begin a new chapter for the structure, which was built in 1913. For years, it was one of the area's tallest hotels.
It gained notoriety nationally when a fire broke out in December 1946, killing more than 100 people, some of whom leapt to their deaths. The building had no fire escapes, fire doors or automatic sprinklers, and fire truck ladders were not designed to reach the highest floors.
In latter years, developers tried using it once again as a hotel and later as a retirement home, but nothing had staying power and the building became an eyesore on the downtown Atlanta landscape for more than a decade.
Then in 2000, RD Management LLC, a New York company, purchased the building for $2.2 million with plans to return it to its former glory.
"Many times we've been excited about similar projects for this property," said Mark Vaughan, executive vice president, chief sales and marketing officer for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. "None of those occasions came to fruition. We're looking forward to The Ellis playing a part in our business. The new hotel will provide business travelers with a unique experience and gives us diversity in our hotel package. Its tradition and uniqueness tell a piece of Atlanta's story."
While the building's past is well-known, most of those interested in the fire are local, O'Leary said.
"I haven't seen that much interest (in the fire) from the regional and national market yet," he said.
O'Leary points out that the fire system is up to code and in some cases, "beyond code," in an effort to make sure guests feel secure.
And he said he doesn't see the building's history as hurting his ability to sell rooms.
"The historical nature of the building is on the outside from the brick and the mortar and the location," he said. "But when you walk into the building, you are walking into the future."