In December of 2004, in the aftermath of a major leak in its basement, the historic Hotel Bentley closed for business. For over a century, the Bentley represented the single most important historical and architectural landmark in Central Louisiana. During World War II, the Bentley served as the second home for General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General George Patton, among many others, as they planned the so-called “Louisiana maneuvers,” a series of trainings and strategy sessions that would prepare the more than 500,000 troops stationed in nearby military camps for an American-led invasion of Nazi-occupied France and Germany. Arguably, outside of Washington, D.C., the Hotel Bentley secretly hosted the most important military strategy sessions in American history.
And just as its historical significance cannot be overstated, neither can its architectural splendor: It was and continues to remain one of the most stunning and earliest examples of Beaux-Arts architecture in the country, a building that slowly but steadily attempted to redefine itself as Art Deco, and, in doing so, also became an example of a third-wave of mid-20th century architecture, postmodernism. The Bentley is a unique architectural jewel, an marriage between the classicism of the early 20th century and the modernity of the mid-century. That is precisely why, a few years after its closure, the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Bentley on its top-ten endangered list.
There is no need to re-litigate the Bentley’s recent past: The politics, the threats of demolition permits, and all of the other groups who had invested their precious time and energy hoping, also, to reignite the promise of the Bentley. What is important now is that the Hotel Bentley now belongs to Alexandria’s most sincere and most accomplished Downtown pioneer and champion, Mike Jenkins.
On a personal note, I want to salute and commend Mike Jenkins for his tenacious and unwavering dedication to the people of Alexandria. Earlier this week, Jenkins bought the Hotel Bentley for $3.4 million, a fair price and one that, I suspect (with all due respect to Mr. Jenkins), would have been immediately accepted by investors who had submitted previous offers. Again, I don’t want to re-litigate recent history, but suffice it to say, at $3.4 million, this deal would have been sealed three or four years ago, if the hotel’s owner, Bob Dean, hadn’t held the hotel hostage at an unreasonably high asking price of $6.5 million (which was, at one point, $12.2 million).
Mr. Jenkin’s persistence and his acumen paid off, and because of it, he received a great deal that will allow him to make the Bentley even greater.
In the next six months, Alexandrians will likely see construction crews at the Bentley, something we haven’t witnessed in decades. He plans on converting portions of the Bentley’s “new wing” into condominiums, the only condominium tower in all of Central Louisiana that will offer sweeping, beautiful views of the Red River, and he will ensure the remainder of the historic structure continues, again, to function as a high-end boutique hotel.
Finally, guys, we have to thank and acknowledge Mayor Jacques Roy. He was first elected six years ago, and despite this intransigence that he sometimes battled against, he remained steadfast: While some lobbied for the City to purchase the Bentley, Mayor Roy championed a private-sector solution. He believed the City must remove itself, as much as possible, from the hotel business. A few months ago, he signed a contingency purchase agreement for the already-City-owned Alexander Fulton, and this week, he ensured that the Hotel Bentley will remain where it should be, in the private-sector. His work and the years-long efforts by his staff have paid off.
So, three cheers for Mike Jenkins, and three cheers for Jacques Roy. Long live the Hotel Bentley.