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Restoring Hotel Syracuse

Written by Renee Dustman
Imagery by Anthony Secker, Loriant Photography

It was 1924, the apex of the Roaring Twenties, when Hotel Syracuse first opened its doors at the corner of East Onondaga and South Warren Streets. Despite Prohibition, the economy was booming; and the 11-story, solid brick behemoth was a veritable hub of activity.
    Perhaps it was the ample overnight accommodations and all the amenities the hotel offered that lured patrons. Where else could a guy buy a new suit, get a haircut, meet the boys for a smoke, and then “cut a rug” with his gal – all under one roof?
    Built by George B. Post and Sons in classic Renaissance style, the sheer beauty of the hotel may have been the draw, too. Just stepping into the lobby – with its terrazzo floor, classical orders, and coffered ceiling – brought on a sense of refinement. One thing is certain: The hotel provided an opulent setting for its guests.

Time Takes its Toll
Hotel Syracuse lived on for some 80 years before closing its doors to overnight guests in 2004. Ten years later, neglect had taken a toll on the building. Although still structurally sound, no one dared take on a restoration project of such magnitude – no one except Syracuse native Ed Riley, that is.
    The building holds a lot of memories for Riley, who frequented the hotel with his family and friends in his youth. He was working in Boston for the Pyramid Hotel Group when fate, and a profound loyalty to his hometown, led him to take on the biggest hotel restoration of his career. He quit his job and bought Hotel Syracuse from the city for $1.6 million, with a plan to restore the “old girl” to her original splendor.

The Work Begins
A restoration of this magnitude isn’t a task for the faint of heart. It takes money, and lots of it. Riley initially estimated the renovation would cost $57 million; the final bill was just over $73 million. Such a project also takes a variety of skilled craftspeople, something Syracuse has in abundance. “There are a lot of good contractors out there, and a lot of talented people,”  Riley said. About 95 percent of the crew was hired locally.
    The plan was to restore the Lobby, Persian Terrace, and Grand Ballroom, renovate the guest rooms, and update everything else. The hotel did not look like its former self, so the restorative work was based on old photos, historical research, and the original architectural drawings.
    Construction workers used kid gloves to remove walls, floors, and ceilings added throughout the years, never knowing what they might uncover, such as a mural behind a wall of mirrors, a chevron-patterned wood floor under carpet, and a molded plaster ceiling under fabricated tiles. Artists worked day and night restoring murals and hand-painted ceilings, such as the skyscape on the barrel-vaulted ceiling in the Grand Ballroom and the faux wood technique on the coffered ceiling in the Lobby. And plasterers worked tirelessly patching ornate moldings and ceiling medallions, particularly in the Lobby, where past remodels had done the most damage.
    Woodworkers also were essential to the success of this project. Syracuse-based L. & J.G. Stickley, Inc. was the original supplier for most of the hotel’s furnishings, and it supplied the case goods for the new guest rooms, too. Stickley also refinished the original servidors, or coffin doors (interlocking doors that allow housekeeping to cater to guests without disturbing them). Harden Furniture had a hand in furnishing the hotel, as well, including restoration of approximately 200 antique chairs.

She’s Open for Business
The hotel reopened August 19, 2016, under a new name: Marriott Syracuse Downtown. Not everything is the way it was in 1924, however.
    The finished restoration features 261 guest rooms and 17 suites that are twice the size of the original 590 rooms, with the exception of the guest rooms at the prow of the building, on floors four through nine, which were kept at their original configuration.
    Another change is that both men and women can get a cocktail and a bite to eat in the newly remodeled Cavalier Room, located just off the Lobby. Downright scandalous!
    Several new businesses have set up shop at street level, such as Eleven Waters, a restaurant and bar, and Café Kubal. Shaugnessy’s Irish pub, named after Riley’s first Irish Setter, and Legacy Steakhouse are slated to open by yearend. Down the pike, Riley plans to restore the Rainbow Lounge, an Art Deco-style cocktail bar originally opened in 1937, four years after the end of Prohibition.
    With over 41,000 square feet of flexible event space, the Marriott Syracuse Downtown at 100 East Onondaga Street, Syracuse, New York, is back in business, and ready to help its guests create new memories and, perhaps, reflect on an era long past, but not forgotten.

Design Resources
Koster’s Wood Floor Store 
Stickley & Audi & Co.

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