The historic Hotel Easton, which lay abandoned and in ruins when Easton Hotel Restoration purchased it in 2000, had a far more dignified past than its appearance at that time suggested. Indeed, the hotel had played a unique and very central role in the life of the city of Easton for much of the 20th century.
The hotel was built in the 1920’s as part of a movement in mid-sized cities to create landmark hotels as the crown jewel of downtown life. It was designed by one of the best firms of the time to mirror the splendor of modern metropolitan hotels in nearby New York City and Philadelphia. The architect, Thomas, Martin & Kirkpatrick, headquartered in Philadelphia, had buildings to its credit throughout the state, including the Girard College Chapel, the Gothic revival ARCH center on the Penn campus and the Hollenback Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The Hotel Easton, however exceeded all expectations.
The grand opening was held on February 10, 1927. More than four hundred Eastonians and guests came, including nearly half a hundred prominent hotel men from all parts of the East. They praised the interior construction and marveled at the furnishings. Everything spoke of the splendor of the occasion: four-foot high floral arrangements graced urns made of ice, meticulously uniformed ushers and waiters moved in choreographed service, a live orchestra played, and dancing and festivities lasted well into the morning. Local newspapers declared it a “brilliant affair”… “the most picturesque event ever held in the City”.
The hotel soon became a local landmark and anchor of the community, and went on to become a premier place to stay in the 1940s and 1950s, counting Eleanor Roosevelt and Jack Dempsey among its guests. Others who passed through included the cigarette making Morris Brothers, Phillip and Johnny, and Tiny Tim. The hotel also served as a favored site for political functions in the 1960s and 1970s, and Easton residents remember politicians such as John F. Kennedy and Jesse Jackson speaking there.
A half a century after its opening, however, the Hotel Easton ran into hard times. Easton and the region as a whole was in decline, and the hotel’s fate mirrored that of its surroundings. In 1990, the building was unceremoniously closed down in bankruptcy. Unfinished drinks were left in the bar and unmade beds were left behind. Cobwebs gathered and plaster began to peel as it sat abandoned, year after year.
The demise of the building was a tremendous hardship for the city. The shuttered windows stood as an announcement to the world that Easton was in distress, with its “crown jewel” vacant, filthy, and unwanted. The Mayor knew how damaging this was to the city’s prospects, and made it a central goal of his administration to find a buyer who would save the building and return it to productive use.
It took the Mayor a full decade of effort to find a possible solution. He pieced together potential grants along with a tax incentive (KOZ) in hope of attracting developers. Many potential buyers considered proposals then backed off. Eventually, the Nurture Nature Foundation was approached. NNF’s President had ties to Easton and wanted to give back to the community. He understood even then the role that cities play in sustainability, how conserving urban resources can save land and natural resources. Finally, NNF agreed to try to save the building, with the hope of simultaneously breathing life back into the city and protecting the rural landscape outside it. Easton Hotel Restoration was created as a subsidiary of NNF for that purpose and the building was acquired.