Sir Walter Hotel
The Sir Walter Hotel is the oldest surviving hotel building in downtown Raleigh. Built in the early 1920s, the hotel was an immediate hit with Northern tourists. The hotel was also popular with legislators who convened in Raleigh and later became the unofficial headquarters of the Democratic Party in North Carolina. After suburbanization led to hard times for the downtown area, the hotel changed hands several times in the 1960s. In 1979, the Sir Walter Hotel became an apartment building for seniors, a role it continues to play today.
Backstory and Context
Josephus Daniels and General Albert Cox founded the Capital Construction Company in 1923 to build a large hotel that could attract guests and conventions to Raleigh. The project turned into the Sir Walter Hotel, which was completed in 1924 at a total cost of $750,000. B. H. Griffin, who owned the nearby Yarborough House hotel, became a part-owner of the hotel and oversaw its operations. The hotel soon became a success and earned the nickname of North Carolina’s “third house of government” because of the many political meetings that took place there. The hotel also hosted weddings, debutante balls, and the Sphinx Club meetings.
It has been estimated that by 1925, the majority of North Carolina’s legislators rented rooms in the Sir Walter Hotel. In the following decades, legislators, lobbyists, newspapermen, and other important people of Raleigh frequented the hotel, hoping to be “in the know.” But, in 1934, the Great Depression led to the hotel’s bankruptcy. It was sold to the North State Hotel Company later that year. After renovations and expansions, the Sir Walter Hotel became the biggest hotel in the state. The building also became the unofficial headquarters of the state’s Democratic Party. Democratic presidents Harry Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson both stayed in the hotel during their time in office.
In 1964, the Sir Walter Hotel was sold to another corporation. One of its partners, John A. Williams, bought out the others in 1967 and donated the building to the state of North Carolina. Two years later, the state sold it to Plaza Associates, who subsequently traded it for land owned by Kidd Brewer. In the late 1970s, the Sir Walter Hotel was turned into an apartment building for seniors. Recently, plans to turn the Sir Walter back into a hotel were set aside, and it seems that the building will remain affordable housing for seniors.
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