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 for business 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.
Fortunately, there are several people throughout the State who understand the wisdom of reopening the Hotel Bentley.
Pictured below: The Mirror Room in the Hotel Bentley