Imagine this. It’s the 1920’s. The business world is booming. Atlanta has risen from the ashes of the Civil War burning and is the center of a glamorous social whirl. The Model T and improved roads have opened up the world to travel as never before. Grand, modern hotels are springing up everywhere, and Asa Candler, son of Coca Cola magnate William Candler, decides to finance a hotel for Atlanta that will turn heads. He finances The Biltmore Hotel, which opens its doors in 1924.
The hotel is 11 stories high, in an upper-class neighborhood near to but separated from the buslte of downtown Atlanta business. Next door are the 10-story Atlanta Apartments, reflecting a trend for combining grand hotels and upscal apartments during this time period. The exterior design is tasteful and restrained, with Neo-Georgian details designed to reflect Southern graciousness and to appeal to the well-heeled traveler and those with a measure of fame. There are two ballrooms, the Imperial and the Georgian, with crystal chandeliers and Palladian windows. The hotel has its own gardens, as well.
On the day of the opening, a train brings a group of important hotel men from around the country into Atlanta. There is a huge dinner and dance at the new hotel, and over 1,000 cars circle the driveway from the terrace to the gardens that evening and over the weekend. The event is broadcast nationally over the radio, and The Biltmore is officially launched as a major center for the best of society to celebrate and to stay while in Atlanta.
Over the next several decades, The Biltmore hosts teas, balls, dances and appearances by stars of the Metropolitan Opera. The South’s first radio station, WSB, broadcasts from its studios within the hotel for over 30 years, and its twin towers with illuminated letters spelling out “Biltmore” become landmarks for the city. Celebrities such as Mary Pickford and Bette Davis, politicians like Franklin D. Roosevel and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and natioal heroes such as Charles Lindbergh stay at The Biltmore.
But times change. The city grows, and competition arises from more modern hotels as The Biltmore ages. In the 60’s, the hotel is sold to a series of owners, including Sheraton. Attempts at renovation are made, but the hotel does not become profitable. Finally, in 1982, the doors are closed. There follow 16 years of abandonment and deterioration. The beautiful and historic building seems doomed.
But then in 1998, the property is bought by the Novare Group. They completely renovate the building, and restore the two ballrooms to their former glory. The property is opened in 1999 as a multi-use building, hosting office and retail space as well as events such as proms and weddings. The ballrooms now glitter again by chandelier light, reflecting on Tennessee marble floors and revealing the handcrafted plaster relief ceilings. With this renovation, The Biltmore Hotel is registered with the National Registry of Historic Places, ensuring that it will continue to allow us to travel back to visit a storied time in Atlanta’s past.
The Biltmore Apartments are also still intact, and after having been used as a guest suite hotel for some years, were converted to condos in 1998. At present, there are 66 units in the renamed Biltmore House and some are available for sale, providing the lucky owners an opportunity to live in the midst of history with every modern convenience.
The Biltmore Hotel and Biltmore House
30 5th St
National Park Service: Atlanta Biltmore Hotel and Biltmore Apartments
The Biltmore Ballrooms