< UNITED STATES | LOUISVILLE: The Brown Hotel
- 100th Anniversary -
Built by wealthy Louisville businessman J. Graham Brown, the Brown Hotel opened its doors on October 25, 1923. The 16-story concrete and steel hotel, faced in brick and trimmed in stone and terra cotta, was designed by architect Preston J. Bradshaw in the Georgian Revival style. The interior design is primarily of the English Renaissance style with Adams period details. Hotel opened after just 10 months of construction and at the cost of four million dollars.
With a population of 235,000, Louisville was the 34th largest city in the country at the time and Fourth Street was already an established promenade. When the Brown opened at the corner
of Fourth and Broadway, it became the cornerstone of "The Magic Corner." David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, visited the city just before The Brown opened. Asking
to see the flag-bedecked building on a tour of the city, he became the first person to sign the guest register.
The hotel quickly became the city's business and social center, bringing a new energy to downtown Louisville. Soon a lavish theater, a church and a large medical and professional building opened adjacent to the hotel. In 1925, J. Graham Brown built the Brown Office Building just east of the hotel, which included the recently refurbished Brown Theatre.
While playing at the Brown Theatre, Lily Pons let her pet lion cub roam free in her suite. Al Jolson, also playing at the Theatre, got in a fight in the hotel's English Grill, but said everything was all right—his makeup would cover the shiner. Queen Marie of Romania visited in 1926 and was entertained in the Crystal Ballroom, complete with red carpet and a gold throne on a dais. Victor Mature had a brief career as an elevator operator at the hotel before earning fame in Hollywood.
Prohibition was in effect from the time the hotel opened until 1933, and the Great Depression of the 1930's stalled J. Graham Brown's businesses. In 1931, Brown defaulted on the loan that had financed the hotel, and the bank threatened to foreclose. Financing was rearranged and Brown kept the hotel, but not without painful steps, including a humble appeal to employees to work temporarily without pay.
In January 1937, the Ohio River rose, invading Louisville. Nearly a thousand people from low-lying areas sought refuge in the hotel and found themselves stranded for ten days. A witness recalled, "We were rowing down Broadway and there was the Brown Hotel. The doors were open and the place was filled with water so we just rowed our boat in one door, went through the lobby and rowed out another." Spirits remained high, however. Charcoal grills in makeshift kitchens fed the multitudes, and bucket brigades carried water up the 15 flights of stairs to flush toilets. During the flood, the bell captain caught a fish in the second floor lobby.
Boom time for the Brown and downtown Louisville began with World War II. While waiting for word from the front, soldiers from Fort Knox and Louisville residents sought relief from the anxieties of war at The Brown. A bell captain remembered, "We were busiest during the War. Check-in at 5:00 p.m. was the worst. Two or three trains a day would come from Fort Knox—soldiers lined up for hours waiting for a room." A bartender noted, "Everybody had more money than they had ever seen before. Business was booming and you couldn't get bartenders. We'd hire anything that could walk and breathe."
Through the years, the Brown's public rooms provided tremendous visibility and customer loyalty for the hotel. Some say more business deals were struck in the English Grill than at any office in town. Countless couples enjoyed a generation of fine entertainers in the Bluegrass Room, and men and women of accomplishment were toasted in the Crystal Ballroom. In fact, many celebrities actually first made a name for themselves in the Bluegrass Room at the Brown Hotel, including George Gobel, Gene Krupa, Clyde McCoy, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.
Among the many well-known patrons of the Brown's superior accommodations have been the Duke of Windsor, Harry Truman, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Young, Joan Crawford, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Carter, George H. Bush, and Barack Obama to name just a few.
In 2005, The Brown was used as a filming location for the movie "Elizabethtown" starring Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst and Susan Sarandon.
#Kay Gill and Mary Lou Northern:   The Brown Hotel and Louisville's Magic Corner
Broadway Renaissance, 1984
English language | 56 pages