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Archive for February 23rd, 2011

Reposted: The Hotel Bentley

Because of the massive spike in interest in the Hotel Bentley as a result of the season premiere of Ghost Hunters, I am reposting this, which I originally published nearly three years ago. If you are interested in learning more about the Hotel Bentley, please visit HistoricBentley.com.

Despite its trials and tribulations throughout the past 100 years, the Hotel Bentley is arguably the most important, historic, and architecturally significant structure in the City of Alexandria. During the previous decade, the hotel has been closed more often than it has been open.

Currently, the hotel is owned by Baton Rouge entrepreneur (and Alexandria native) Bob Dean, who closed the hotel back in December of 2004.

The Hotel Bentley was constructed in 1907 by Joseph Bentley, a native of Pennsylvania who became wealthy in the lumber industry in Central Louisiana. Bentley was an eccentric fellow, and legend has it that the only reason he built the hotel is because he was turned down for a room in the former Ice House Hotel (which was subsequently destroyed by fire).

Bentley was particularly impressed by the Capitol Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, so he tracked down the architect and asked him to design a hotel in Alexandria. Both hotels feature similarly opulent atriums, much like the Peabody in Memphis.

Joseph Bentley at the wheel.

Bentley ensured the hotel could also serve as his personal residence. He carved out a large apartment on one of the top floors and installed a personal elevator; both the apartment and the private elevator remain today.

In or around 1933, Bentley built a massive addition to his hotel, an addition which was constructed by Tudor-Ratcliffe (both families remain in the construction business to this day). It added more than 80 rooms.

During World War II, the United States military trained over a half of a million troops in the Alexandria area, and the commanders of these troops– people like Dwight Eisenhower and George S. Patton– resided for long periods of time at the Hotel Bentley, planning the now-historic Louisiana Maneuvers.

Throughout the 1950s, the hotel continued to flourish, but by the late 1960s, it was struggling. The hotel closed for business for nearly a decade, during which time it allegedly served “other purposes” for select clientèle (if you catch my drift). The owner of the hotel during this period was apparently (subsequently) locked up in jail.

Skip forward to the early 1980s: Buddy Tudor, a local developer, purchased and renovated the shuttered hotel, reopening it after millions of dollars in repairs to national acclaim in 1985. Mr. Tudor remained as owner for nearly 15 years. He sold to a group out of New Orleans, and less than a year later, they sold the hotel to Bob Dean, who retains ownership to this day.

Mr. Dean, to his credit, initially made around a million dollars in upgrades to the hotel, though he kept the hotel open for less than five years.

Today, the hotel remains shuttered, though there is good reason to believe in its renaissance. As a result of the City of Alexandria’s Downtown Hotels Initiative, the development team Hospitality Initiatives Partnership (or H.I.P.) is now planning to reopen and transform the hotel into a world-class destination.

Pictured below: The Mirror Room in the Hotel Bentley

Jim Clinton: “Astonishingly Good News” for Central Louisiana

Jim Clinton, the Executive Director of Cenla Advantage Partnership, has a reason to celebrate. After years of championing the need for a true community college, a recent report by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems titled “An Assessment of Community College Needs in Central Louisiana” clearly and unequivocally demonstrates that Central Louisiana is severely underserved and desperately needs a community college.

On its surface, that may not sound like good news, but as Jim Clinton writes today on his blog, there is a reason to celebrate.

Among other things, the new report says, “Central Louisiana is the most underserved region of the state with regard to provision of community college services.” It could have said that we are one of the most underserved regions in the nation with accuracy as well.

More importantly, the report makes a series of recommendations that when implemented could change the landscape of Central Louisiana forever.

The report recommends “…creation of a technical community college in the Alexandria region.” It says that the college should be serve as the “…single front door” for community college services for students and employers. It goes on to prescribe the kinds of services that should be offered through the new entity.

A question that often arises on this subject is, “Didn’t LSUA used to be a community college?” Since LSUA’s status as a four-year institution is a relatively recent phenomenon, this is a perfectly normal question. However, the answer is “no.” LSUA was a two-year college, but it was never the kind of comprehensive community and technical institution that is envisioned by “Beyond High School” or in the new recommendations.  A comprehensive community and technical college in Central Louisiana is a game-changer for us, a landmark event.

It fills a gaping hole in Central Louisiana and it does so within a system that is constitutionally mandated to provide such services. As we look at building a real knowledge platform for the citizens, businesses and institutions of Central Louisiana, the addition of the technical community college is exactly what is called for at this point in our history.

It is astonishingly good news for the region. As “Beyond High School” demonstrated, the greatest opportunity for job creation in the region for the next decade will be in jobs requiring more than a high school education and less than a four-year diploma. It is specifically that arena in which the region is so underserved, and it is specifically that market that the new institution will serve.

The result will be investment, jobs, higher levels of knowledge, higher levels of pay, and new wealth creation for our region.

And here’s what is most promising (bold mine):

The report will now go on to the Louisiana Board of Regents for its consideration. Because of the way the report recommends using existing institutional resources to pave the way on implementation, we could be looking forward to the commencement of classes before the year is out.

Kudos to Mr. Clinton and to all of the local leaders who have championed this project. He’s right: This is astonishingly good news.

Set Your DVR: Tonight’s Ghost Hunters Is All About Alexandria

Just a quick reminder: The season premiere of Ghost Hunters airs tonight on the Syfy Channel: 8PM CST and then again at 10PM CST.

And the episode, titled “Haunted Town,” is exclusively about Alexandria, Louisiana.

They visit the Hotel Bentley, Finnegans Wake, and the Diamond Grill, where, hopefully, I’ll be able to live-tweet and/or live-blog alongside Alexandria’s own Carla Ledbetter, who will be reporting for The Washington Times.

Check it out:

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