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Blog post by Randi Richardson

The new Hotel Graham was one of the most modern in the Midwest.  And at long last, when weary travelers arrived in Bloomington looking desperately for accommodations there would be some relief.

The Hotel Graham was known previously as the Hotel Bowles.  A third of the hotel was razed in 1928 to make room for the new hotel.  Image from the postcard collection of the author.

The Hotel Graham was known previously as the Hotel Bowles.  A third of the hotel was razed in 1928 to make room for the new hotel.  Image from the postcard collection of the author.

Early in 1928 there were but few hotels in Bloomington.  William Graham owned both the Hotel Graham, previously known as Hotel Bowles and Hotel Gentry, and the Tourner Hotel.  Preston Gilliatt had managed both for the past ten years.  He knew only too well that most nights there were no rooms available for guests, many of whom stayed away from Bloomington for fear they would be unable to find hotel accommodations.

With Gilliatt’s intimate knowledge of the hotel industry combined with his close business relationship with William Graham, it wasn’t too surprising when he purchased the Hotel Graham from Graham in early 1928.  One of the first decisions made by Gilliatt was to raze about a third of the hotel, that portion facing College and Sixth Street.  Then with financing and collaboration from the newly formed Graham Hotel Realty Company headed by Graham and with Gilliatt on board as vice president, plans were made for 100 new rooms.

Graham was one of Bloomington’s movers and shakers.  At the time he sold the Hotel Graham, he had been the city’s postmaster for a number of years and was also the president of Graham Motor Sales and, of course, he still owned the Tourner.

Barely a year later, on February 28, 1929, the Indianapolis Star announced the opening of the new Hotel Graham in a lengthy story accompanied by photos of both Graham and Gilliatt.  Perhaps the most notable difference between the old hotel and the new, was its sheer size—eight stories.  Certainly the tallest building in Bloomington, it would remain so until the opening of Ballantine Hall on the IU campus in 1959.

The news item described the hotel interior in great detail.  It was reported that the entrance to the spacious lobby on the ground floor was through wide, double doors.  From there one could access a large banquet room with a seating capacity for 200, lighted with crystal chandeliers and candle bracket lights along the walls.  A lovely lounge with a terrazzo floor was noted just a couple of steps up from the lobby furnished with rugs, davenports and occasional chairs of all types.  Also on the second floor was a large, well-appointed dining room with seating for 120.  Special china and silver was available for use in that room.

Guest rooms were located on floors three through eight.  Guests would be conveyed to all levels by an elevator.  Drinking fountains would provide guests with ice-cold water on each floor.  All rooms feature a toilet and sink separate from the sleeping room, and 85 % of the rooms also include baths, either a shower or tub, of the highest grade made.

The new Hotel Graham at College and Sixth Street.  The older portion of the hotel is visible on the left.  Photo courtesy of the Monroe County History Center.

The bedrooms themselves offer comfort-giving features that can’t be excelled.  Corner rooms on each floor are fitted up as parlor bedrooms with a large davenport, three easy chairs, writing desk and chair, lamp and vanity dresser.  All rooms have large wall fans, roomy closets and four base outlets for those electric conveniences now carried by most travelers.  There’s also an outlet in the bathroom for a curling iron or a similar device.

According to the newspaper, completion of the new Hotel Graham made it possible for guests to acquire accommodations equal to the best found anywhere.   In fact, it was believed to be one of the finest hotels in the state and a true symbol of the city’s growth.

Fast forward now nearly a century.  In 2020, the exterior of the 8-story hotel remains much the way it appeared in its heyday.  However, after several name changes associated with changes in ownership, today it is known as the Graham Plaza and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Several retail businesses are situated on the lobby level, but the guest rooms have been turned into offices leased to a variety of businesses by CFC Properties.

Monroe County is fortunate to have preserved this fine building!