PLEASE NOTE: This post will be a constant Work In Progress.
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
Hi Lamar. Another non-troglodyte Louisiana blogger! Well, I’m glad I found you. I see I’m already on your blogroll. Thanks. I added you to my blog friends.
My husband and I stayed at the Bentley shortly before it closed, when the marvelous religious art exhibit was in Alex a couple of years ago. The exhibit was great! The lobby of the Bentley is magnificent, but our room was only so-so. I hope that someone gets this lovely old hotel going again. It would be a shame to lose it.
We had a tour of Emmanuel Baptist Church with it’s beautiful stained glass. That’s a different kind of Baptist church from those I know. We visited the art gallery in the basement, which even had a nude painting in it. Our tour guide told us that the church was not Southern Baptist. I could tell.
I’ve been a fan of your blog for some time now.
Are you referring to the Heart of Spain exhibit?
Regarding the Bentley’s rooms, yes, although the hotel’s lobby and common areas are quite impressive, the rooms are actually quite plain– definitely in need of some updating.
Emmanuel is a great structure, as is St. Francis Xavier next door.
perfect timing! very informative…much obliged -pate
I’m happy you enjoyed your visit to Emmanuel. I grew up in that church, and after her nest emptied out my mother became a children’s minister there.
It is and is not a Southern Baptist church. By (original) definition, Southern Baptists have enjoyed the covenant of local church autonomy, so each church is allowed to follow the wishes of their congregation. On the other hand, the Southern Baptist Convention has been able to consolidate control over congregations through a number of means in the last thirty years.
Since I was a kid, Emmanuel has grown away from the policies of the Southern Baptist Convention, but as long as there is at least one member of the congregation giving money to the SBC they can claim us as a Southern Baptist church. Many members stipulate that their tithes go to other groups, such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Baptists churches can be affiliated with as many Conventions or Fellowships as they donate to.
When I was in the youth group, we took a side trip on the way to church camp to visit Disney World. This was in the midst of the SBC boycott of Disney after the creation of Gay Day. In the same trip, we stayed a night in the gym of our youth minister’s home church. Because she is a female minister, that church refused to recognize our presence during the Sunday church service.
I am been proud to have been a part of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Downtown Alexandria. It took me a number of years to recognize why my mother forced us to drive across town each Sunday and Wednesday to be a part of that particular congregation.
Dr. Larry Taylor, who retired relatively recently, was an amazing speaker and a wonderful pastor. He was a student at Central High School in Little Rock during that historic episode of desegregation in the late Fifities. I can remember his wonderful sermons on the importance of laughter in the book of Isaiah. He often gave non-Biblical teachings, too: I recall one about vising Hawthorne’s grave in Concord, and another about the life of Abraham Lincoln.
In churches such as Emmanuel, there are more and more Christians claiming that they are Baptists from the South, not necessarily Southern Baptists. Fortunately, the new pastor of Emmanuel is equally committed to the autonomy of our church, the priesthood of the individual believer, local community support, and the personal spiritual growth of each and every member of the church.
Lamar, yes. Ir was the Heart of Spain exhibit. The room containing the crucifixion paintings took my breath away.
Daniel, Emmanuel seems a lovely church family. I’m pleased that your new pastor is committed to the autonomy of the church. Good for the Baptists who are taking back their church from the extremists.
Thankyou for having this website. Joseph Bentley was my great great uncle, and as a child I have fond memories of visiting the hotel. I was only able to stay there once before it shut down this last time. Thanks for keeping The Bentley alive!!!!
I just wanted to add, I’ve had not only the pleasure of seeing every nook and cranny of this old gem…I worked under Mr. Dean for just over a year, you see I was the front end manager. In my time at the Bentely I grew to understand the importance of her history…to my surprise we were commond by the White House for Presidents Clintons Easter visit, I learned so much more about the beauty and the strength of the Bentley. I fell in love with the idear of her…She is a true treasure in our history.
Blessing unto all,
My name is Carole Barrios Lapine. My grandfather, Hewlett C. Collier, managed the Hotel Bentley for many years in the 1920s and 30s. My mother, Loraine Collier Barrios, grew up in the suite of rooms at the top of the Hotel. When the Hotel was restored a few years ago my mother donated some of the silver and other artifacts to the hotel and they were displayed in the hotel lobby. She had many stories to tell about the hotel. I have many pictures of the hotel in its heyday and fond memories of her stories. She was truly another Eloise – beautiful and feisty.
We will be in Alexandria the second week of September (8th in the evening and 9th ) and would like to tour the hotel. I realize it is closed and am saddened by the lack of interest in restoring and opening this grand hotel. My husband and I would like very much to see the hotel and the apartment at the top. This is my only link to my mother’s past as she was an only child and truly lived the grandeur of the times in that lovely old building. If you could put me in contact with someone who can pull some strings to get us in the building we would be most appreciative. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org We live in Utah – Mountain standard time – one hour behind Louisiana. I would love to be involved with saving this hotel. I co-owned two old hotels in Ogden, Utah, at one time in my life – small ones compared to the Bentley and would love to be involved in some aspect of the historic preservation.
Part of my mother’s obituary is below and it talks about the Bentley Hotel as it was the focal point of her life.
Loraine was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, on January 29, 1923, to Avice Peters Collier and Hewett Cullen Collier. Loraine was an only child who grew up “Eloise style” in a suite of rooms at the top of the Bentley Hotel in Alexandria. She liked to tell stories about the alligators that a family friend brought her each year. She kept them in the pond of the lobby of the hotel and they often crawled out of the pond and scared the hotel guests. When they were too big for the pond they were given to the local zoo. Another family friend, Governor Huey P. Long, gave Loraine her first doll. Her family, in a rather eccentric southern style, drove to Nieman Marcus in Dallas, Texas, each year to buy Loraine her year’s wardrobe. They chose only one color for her clothes each year. The doorman, Fisher, drove her to school each day, and when she was old enough to exert her opinion she had Fisher drop her off a block from school so no one would know she was being escorted to school. She had a very interesting childhood, which helped to create a very feisty and interesting southern lady.
Loraine met Joseph Reyna (Ray) Barrios while he was playing a music job at her Father’s hotel. They married in 1940 and were married for 54 years before Ray’s death in 1994.
The Bentley hotel has many memories for our family and we hate to see it shut down. So again, if anyone can help us visit this historic building please e-mail. I sent an e-mail to the Chamber but no response.
In memory, I went home again when i read the comments of Carol Barrios Lapaine. Her mother, Loraine, is my first cousin as Avice, Loraine’s mother, and my father, James, were brother and sister.
Loraine was absolutely beautiful, had engaging ways and a delightful personality. For my brother, sister and me, no privilege was greater than going with Loraine to the Hotel Bently kitchen and selecting ice cream.
My husband and I had the opportunity to stay at the Bentley several years ago. We only stayed one night to attend a pre-wedding dance for a family wedding. The wedding was at the Catholic Church nearby, but the wedding photos were taken in the lobby area on the stair case. This was the most magnificent hotel we have ever seen. Our room was wonderful – the linens, the drapes, everything was fabulous. The fixtures were beautiful. The reception for the wedding was held at another historic site in Alexandria. We will never forget our stay at this wonderful old historic hotel. We hope that it will be restored one day.
Robert and Loretta Broussard
Also the museum is releasing a DVD on the Bentley in November.
“Bentley Hotel 1908”
im from alexandria, la my mom use to work there in the early 90’s i wish they can open it back up. i loved that place wheni was a little girl, i use to always tell my mom that i wanted o get married in hotel bently lobby and im 29 years old i have yet to get married & i still want that to be the place i hold my dream wedding.
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In the early 80’s I was stationed at England AFB so am familiar with Alexandria…must say that my return to Louisiana or should I say Baton Rouge isn’t all that I expected. How is it that we can build a Wendy’s on every corner, A Mcdonalds in every neighborhood but we cannot take a building with the history that the Bentley possesses and keep it alive. Such a shame to see that it is not being utilized. As a Pensacola Fl. native we watched as our very own San Carlos Hotel become nothing but rubble because of the same lack of concern…a Federal Courthouse sit’s on the property now.
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