Making Historic Properties Relevant Today
By Curtis Bashaw Co-Managing Partner, Cape Advisors and Cape Resorts Group | May 21, 2017
I restored my first historic property-an 1879 Victorian inn in Cape May, New Jersey-nearly 30 years ago. Since then, I've led or collaborated on dozens of renovation projects from a mid-19th-century office building in Soho to a 201-year-old hotel in Cape May. My goal in restoring all of these significant structures has always been the same-to make them relevant for new generations.
Historic buildings are a window into the past. Unfortunately, few of them operate today as they were originally intended to, and, of those that do, only a handful have been successful at it. That 201-year-old hotel, by the way, is Congress Hall, which, with the exception of a politically-related closing early in its youth, has operated as a hotel and resort for nearly all of the last two centuries.
My mission as a developer and hotelier is to preserve these touchstones from the past in ways that connect them to present-day users. If they are not kept relevant through use, they run the risk of becoming relics or museums.
Several decades ago, the lodgings industry went through a phase when everyone wanted motel-like accommodations. Then it went through a period where high-design boutique hotels were in vogue.
Today, urban and resort hotels are thriving again. Some are renovations of long dormant properties. Others are down-sized urban grande dames whose owners sold off parts of the hotel as residences and reduced guestroom counts. Think Philadelphia's Bellevue-Stratford and New York's Plaza and Waldorf Astoria. Perhaps more than any other niche today, destination resort properties that typically program the guest experience are undergoing a revival. Congress Hall is part of that pantheon of great family-owned classic independent resorts like the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan, and Mohonk Mountain House in New York. These properties have been updated along the way and made relevant for contemporary travelers-without losing their soul.
As the owner of historic hotels, inns and cottages in Cape May and Sag Harbor, New York, I am deeply committed to the stewardship these structures demand of us as caretakers. After all, they are their towns' storytellers, chronicling the communities' rise, challenges and, often, re-invention. They are also their towns' living room and gathering place, and frequently, in smaller communities, their primary employer.