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The two faces of the Hotel Blackhawk

By Alise Obrien Photography

First-time guests of the Hotel Blackhawk experience geographic confusion as they stand beneath the stained-glass dome of the downtown Davenport hotel’s lobby.

They feel as though “they’re not in Iowa anymore,” said Lynn Hunt, vice president of sales for the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Jody Johnston-Mohr, who has planned a number of physician-education programs at the Hotel Blackhawk, concurs.  “I have had speakers come here from the other side of the U.S., and they say they can’t believe we have a hotel like this in Davenport, Iowa.”

A special place
The Hotel Blackhawk opened in 1915, and for much of the 20th century, it was the city’s special place. Couples met, wed and later toasted anniversaries there. The hotel housed presidents, movie stars and musicians.

But like many historic hotels, the Blackhawk declined; its downhill slide ending in flames with a guest-room fire in 2006.

Four years later, the Hotel Blackhawk was back, and its 2010 reopening had hundreds lined up to see what 18 months of work and nearly $40 million had done to their old favorite. They weren’t disappointed.

Quad City Times columnist Bill Wundram was among the first to see the hotel. “There’s nothing like this ‘new’ Blackhawk in all of Iowa and most of Illinois,” he wrote. “Come on, Chicago. Do you have anything finer? It’s a class like the Quad-City region has never seen.”

A new approach to restoration
Restored historic downtown hotels aren’t uncommon, but the approach taken with the Hotel Blackhawk by developer Restoration Saint Louis was not typical.

Most of the hotel’s first two floors were painstakingly returned to 1915. The fanciful Gold Room, a 5,000-square-foot ballroom known for crystal chandeliers and french doors, got its beauty back. Dropped ceilings, among the  “improvements” made in the mid-1970s, were removed to reveal an atrium topped with a stained-glass ceiling. That space became a grand lobby.

Guest rooms gutted
For the guest room floors, Restoration Saint Louis did an about-face, gutting those floors and turning 230 guest rooms into 130, 52 with adjoining parlors. Two floors became 19 long-term apartments.

Instead of an early-1900s decor, the guest rooms went contemporary and chic with streamlined furnishings, a muted color palette and mod touches like a television screen in the bathroom mirror.

“Meeting planners are pleasantly surprised at the modern amenities and look of hotel rooms in comparison to the look of the public spaces,” said Hunt.

Guest rooms hint at the hotel’s original Art Deco influences. Like the Blackhawk’s architects, who in 1915 melded Italian Renaissance and art deco, Restoration Saint Louis has successfully wedded hip and historic, which also happens to be the hotel’s new marketing theme.

“There’s a sort of timelessness to it,” said Lora Adams, who has planned public television station WQPT’s fundraiser at the hotel for the past two years.