(Disclaimer: Any opinion contained in this column is that of its author.)
It may not look like the luxury hotel it once was, but a century of time cannot erase the pride Augustans felt with the grand opening of the Hotel Richmond on Monday, May 14, 1923, in the 700 block of Broad Street with its 202 rooms spread over eight stories.
Today the once lodging place for Masters Tournament golfers, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s national press corps and various international celebrities is known as the low income, federally subsidized Richmond Summit.
It took Augusta’s disastrous fire of 1921 to make way for the building of the Hotel Richmond when two-thirds of the existing Albion Hotel was destroyed.
The eastern third which contained J.B. White & Co. store (later becoming Sears, Roebuck & Co. and J.C. Penney’s) still exists today. The middle part became a short street named Albion Way. The western part became the Hotel Richmond.
It was William Rufus Barringer, four times mayor of Florence, S.C., who saw the possibility of another luxury hotel in downtown Augusta. The only other major competitions at the time were the Partridge Inn and Bon Air hotels on Walton Way.
Native South Carolinian Barringer had been president of the gas company, a drug store and a large bank in Florence and owner of other hotels.
He hired prominent Augusta architect G. Lloyd Preacher to design the new hotel (he already had designed the Imperial Theater, the Lamar and Marion buildings, the Augusta Herald/News building, etc.) and the Atlanta firm of Griffin Construction Co. to build it.
Work began on May 8, 1922, with the project being completed about a year later for about $750,000 or roughly $13.5 million today.
Georgia-Carolina Brick Co. with manufacturing plants in Augusta and North Augusta created a large amount of the outside construction. The Regal (N.C.) Blue Marble Co. was selected for the ornamental stonework.
The first floor would contain a coffee shop and the King’s Inn and Pub dining room. The basement would contain a barber shop, a tailor shop, the ice-making machinery, a boiler plant and a public bathroom.
Mayor Julian M. Smith welcomed the 200 guests attending the opening night banquet with the evening opened by the singing of America (The Beautiful) led by popular local YMCA general secretary J. Edgar Probyn and being played by Charlie Fulcher’s Orchestra.
Four months after its opening, the Exchange Club of Augusta would receive its charter in the Hotel Richmond.
Elvis Presley would stay overnight in the hotel at least twice in 1956. Movie/TV star Bob Hope and Tonight show bandleader/trumpet player Doc Severinsen were among many other notables who slept there.
The Hotel Richmond in the summer of 1963 became the Augusta Town House Motor Inn. Original owner Barringer had died in 1939 and his son, Lawrence, and daughter, Flora, took over the building.
Flora bought out her brother’s interest and created her dream motor court adding the rear section extending from Ellis to Greene streets to include parking decks, myrtle trees and an outdoor patio with a swimming pool. The section would become a members-only, men only health club in the 1980s.
The story about the Town House opening in The Augusta Chronicle noted that, besides air conditioners, all the motel units had “bed side television controls that enable the guest to remain in bed while he changes channels at will.” Radios also were provided in each room.
Within a short time, the Town House like the Hotel Richmond became a popular place for parties with future country music superstar Ronnie Milsap and his band performing for the Butler High School Graduation Dance in June of 1966 (“stag or drag” for $3).
That same year in November, Flora Barringer sold her interests in the hotel; ending Barringer family ownership after 44 years. Population and business changes in the area forced later owners to file for bankruptcy in January of 1971.
But just a few months later in March, the building re-opened as the Richmond Motor Hotel. New manager Harry Mais proclaimed, “We are now open completely. Food, beverage, rooms, the works.”
The 1970s saw financial ups and downs, but the hotel still hosted gatherings of Augusta’s largest civic clubs, visits by former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower to the annual Augusta Heart Fund luncheons and campaign rallies of Georgia and South Carolina political leaders.
Although the name on the building has changed along with its residential guests, thousands of Augustans and former residents still recall the glory days of the Hotel Richmond and Town House Motor Inn as the building observes its 100th anniversary.
Don Rhodes has been a by-line journalist since 1963 writing for his Chamblee, Ga., High School newspaper and two weeklies in Decatur. He has worked for Morris Communications Co. since joining the Savannah Evening Press in March of 1967. He also has authored four national books, four regional books, national magazine articles and album notes for several music artists.
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