Imagine standing in the grand lobby of a hotel when a well-known actress arrives to check in — with her horse. That's exactly what happened back in 1927 when Betty Rand and Phantom, both in town to star in a movie, showed up at the registration desk at The Lancaster Hotel.
When the $10-million renovation of the 93-room boutique inn that's well-positioned in the heart of the downtown Houston Theater District is completed next month, guests will find a wall-size photograph of Rand and her four-legged companion hanging downstairs. Phantom, by the way, was stabled across the street and not so privileged as to stay in one of the luxurious suites.
"We are proud to refurbish this gem of a property that my great-grandfather, Michele DeGeorge, built as The Auditorium Hotel in 1926 and that reopened as The Lancaster in 1983," Charles M. Lusk III, president of The Lancaster Houston, explains about the expansive overhaul. "Our intent was to keep it elegant and traditional, without throwing in contemporary or edgy décor. We tried to avoid that because our typical guest is typically a 40- to 60-year-old business person."
Gensler, the project's architect, worked with Dwyer Interiors designer Charlene Lusk Dwyer to ensure that replacing the former English manor furnishings didn't strip away the hotel's classic stylings. Still, the upgrade doesn't mean losing out on the latest technology conveniences.
"We're Southern hospitality at its finest. Elegance laced with down-home comfort."
Rooms are outfitted with Wi-fi access, 55-inch smart TVs and bedside pads with multiple outlets to charge smart phones, tablets and laptops simultaneously. The Lancaster is also one of the first hotels in Houston to install VingCard room locks, the latest electronic system by Signature Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), in which keycards are scanned intuitively and not swiped or inserted into a slot on the lock.
Part of the remodel is an eye-catching, cranberry red Italian glass chandelier that will hang high above the check-in reception, a contrast to the subdued, beige marble floors below. The registration desk has been repositioned to carve a window opening that offers views of the surrounding downtown streetscape.
The soon to be renamed first-floor Lancaster Bistro — it will likely be called The Hollow in reference to the area's nickname in the 1800s — will receive a new door that allows for an unobstructed view from the front entryway.
Guest rooms are adorned with much of the original furniture such as the refinished, two-poster mahogany rice beds. New are the fabrics and wall colors, which have been updated in a palette of masculine hues of grey, taupe and blue. You may notice a departure from the norm with regards to the window coverings — the neutral-colored sheers hang outside the curtains instead of inside to achieve a softer look.
As a nod to the identity of the hotel, an art curator was commissioned to collect items reflective of the history of Theater District organizations. You'll spot items like posters and playbills hanging on guest room walls.
Pops of color are thrown in via various accents like crimson red (the tint of theater curtains) chairs and pillows. Light blue throws made from recycled, surplus T-shirts and inscribed with the hotel's logo — a lion's head — rest at the foot of each bed. The logo can also be found in the sparkling brass towel holders inside the bathrooms. Plumbing fixtures by WaterWorks, also made of brass, shimmer against the white Carrara marble finishes that grace the floors, countertops and showers.
Throughout the renovation process, one thing that hasn't changed is the hotel's charm.
"We're Southern hospitality at its finest," general manager Brenda Anderson says. "Elegance laced with down-home comfort."