Looking to produce stronger connections, derive deeper meaning and create lasting memories from your next meeting or event? Book a property with a famed hosting history, and your attendees will remember you well for it.
“The power of place cannot be overstated,” said Janet Sperstad, founder and director of the pioneering meeting and event management associate degree program at Madison College in her native Wisconsin.
Formerly a meeting planner, Sperstad is also a foremost authority on the convergence of neuroscience, physical environments and event design.
“We read space like we read a face, seeking clues and nuances, which in turn influences our thoughts and behavior,” she said. “When that physical environment is associated with landmark events and personalities, people typically have an emotional reaction, such as an enhanced sense of intrigue, wonder or fun. That’s neurochemicals like dopamine at work in your brain.
“Tied to long-term memory, this forms a deeply personal and lasting connection," Sperstad continued. "In fact, it’s literally unforgettable, because emotional experiences, encoded in our brains, are what we remember best.”
Historic hotels are made to measure for the purpose.
“Many of our 300-plus member properties become destinations unto themselves because of renowned events they have hosted,” said Michael DiRienzo, director, sales and development for D.C.-based Historic Hotels of America. “By inference, that raises your meeting or event to a whole different level.
“Corporate, association and event planners are inspired to equate their program to past conferences that produced landmark agreements or pacts, or resolved a crisis, or established a path of advancement,” he added. “It’s historical continuum that planners can capitalize on—and become stars for their attendees.”
For unforgettable meetings, here are some indelible footsteps to follow.
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From preparations for war to conferences for peace, hotels have hosted meetings that changed the world.
Dating to 1716, Concord’s 56-room Colonial Inn, situated north of Boston, offers six meeting rooms for 120 guests. On April 19, 1775, Minutemen clashed with British troops seeking to destroy the inn’s store of Patriot arms and provisions.
The resulting Battles of Lexington and Concord ignited the war that produced a nation—the United States of America. Wounded Patriots were treated at the inn, which later served as Henry David Thoreau’s home while he attended Harvard.
In Portsmouth, N.H., Wentworth by the Sea (1874) was the headquarters in 1905 for the month-long negotiations, mediated by Theodore Roosevelt that produced the Portsmouth Peace Treaty, ending the Russo-Japanese War.
Saved from demolition in the early 1980s, the property reopened in 2003 as a Marriott Hotel and Spa, with 161 guest rooms and 10,000-plus square feet of elegant meeting space.
For three weeks in July 1944, another New Hampshire treasure, the 200-room Omni Mount Washington Resort (1902), hosted the Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference.
Establishing the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, setting the gold standard, and making the U.S. dollar the backbone of international exchange, the landmark conference, featuring 1,000 delegates from 44 nations, was principally staged in the Grand Ballroom. Updated in 2005, the room still hosts groups, while the signatory Gold Room is preserved as a historic site.
Since 1869, the fairytale 600-room Mohonk Mountain House in New York’s Hudson Valley has hosted globally impactful meetings. Most notable were the annual Lake Mohonk Conferences on International Arbitration, held from 1895 to 1916.
Established by Albert Smiley, Mohonk’s co-founder with twin brother Alfred, these forums gave impetus to the Hague Conferences, forerunners of the League of Nations, and ultimately, the United Nations. Smiley’s efforts saw him nominated in 1912 for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Our rich meetings history continues in the present day,” said Nina Smiley, director of mindfulness programming at the National Historic Landmark property.
“Current psychological research, along with our legacy of hosting discussions that have produced unprecedented results, show that peaceful, natural surroundings have a deep positive influence on people and can also shape their interactions with others,” she added.
Albert Smiley’s legacy lives on via nonprofit Mohonk Consultations, which hosts an annual forum on important issues of the day.
What began at Mohonk culminated at the Fairmont San Francisco, where in 1945, delegates from 40 countries drafted the Charter, founding document of the United Nations, in the hotel’s Garden Room. The country flags of the original signatories have graced the hotel’s porte cochere ever since.
Revived in 1907 from the ashes of the 1906 earthquake, this 591-room Beaux Arts jewel atop Nob Hill is synonymous with rebirth and renaissance.
Offering 55,000 square feet of function space, signature venues include the Venetian Room, where Tony Bennett first crooned I Left My Heart in San Francisco, and the tiki-style Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar.
Fairmont’s flagship was also where in 1975, Thomas Wolfe introduced the hotel concierge to America. He has been the property’s chief concierge ever since.
Another veteran frontman is Frank Mosley, “goodwill ambassador” at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. Welcoming guests to “America’s Resort” since 1959, Mosley was feted last month on his 85th birthday. Opened in 1778, the 710-room resort, offering 130,000 square feet of function space, has hosted 27 U.S. Presidents. Signature experiences include tours of The Bunker.
Buried 720 feet under the West Virginia Wing, this massive Cold War facility was designed to relocate the U.S. Congress in case of national emergency or nuclear war.
Some 250 miles to the east in Washington, D.C., groups can meet in another hotel where furtive doings of a different stripe produced a national scandal—and brought down a president.
Soon after opening in 1967, the groovy Watergate attracted the swinging crowd. This early hedonistic repute was just a warm-up, however, for the Nixon-era infamy that followed.
Closed in 2007, the property relaunched in June 2016 as the 336-room Watergate Hotel. Decadent by design, its $125 million retro-luxe makeover created 27,000 square feet of versatile space.
Highlights include the Moretti Grand Ballroom, named after the original architect; the honey-hued Next Whiskey Bar, named after the Doors’ hit song; and Top of the Gate rooftop bar and lounge.
Plus, the property features customized homages like the Watergate Spy Package.
The “secretive” theme continues at the 834-room Omni Shoreham Hotel. Hosting every inaugural ball from presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama—with Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on his big night—the Shoreham (1930) has nine Presidential Suites in their honor.
Less known is the hotel’s founding connection to the U.S. Navy SEALs. In November 1942, behind guarded doors, a group of men tested a revolutionary new underwater breathing apparatus in the Shoreham’s pool. Precursor to SCUBA gear, the device helped inspire the formation of the secretive SEALs.
With the event recently commemorated with a 75th anniversary plaque, the pool today is a meeting room, one of 24 comprising 100,000-plus square feet of flexible space.
Not all D.C. legacies are shadowy. Turning 100 this year, the 1,152-room Marriott Wardman Park, offering nearly 195,000 square feet of function space, is where African-American poet Langston Hughes, working as a busboy, was discovered in 1925. In 1954, Thurgood Marshall and colleagues overnighted here ahead of trying Brown vs. Board of Education in the Supreme Court.
Few hotels are as storied as Boston’s 551-room Omni Parker Hotel. Opened in 1855, America’s longest continuously operating hotel once employed Ho Chi Minh (busboy) and Malcolm X (waiter); hosted legendary guests including John Wilkes Booth (the week before he shot Lincoln) and Charles Dickens; and introduced food firsts, including Boston cream pie, the official dessert of Massachusetts, and Parker House rolls.
In 1956, dignitaries descended on Dallas for The Statler Hilton Dallas’ four-day opening celebration. Recognized as “the first modern American hotel,” The Statler, then offering the largest convention facility in the South, was among the first with lower-floor ballrooms and conference rooms. The hotel also introduced elevator music, the heliport and custom Westinghouse TVs in every room.
After commanding the Dallas scene for decades, The Statler, shuttered in 2001, faced the wrecking ball. Salvation was at hand, however, and in October 2017, following a three-year, $230 million update, it reopened as the Hilton-flagged 159-room Statler Dallas.
Blending hip Midcentury Modern homages with advanced technology, this triumphant revival, notably becoming Historic Hotels of America’s 300th member, offers 33,000 square feet of group space.
Highlights include the Grand Ballroom, scenically overlooking Dallas, where Liberace, Frank Sinatra and other stars once performed.
Few properties can match the footsteps followed by the 118-room Hotel Chaco in Albuquerque, N.M.
With event spaces for 150 and access to 62,000 square feet of space at adjacent Hotel Albuquerque, this luxurious new-build Heritage Hotels property was inspired by Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico, three hours away. The center of Anasazi civilization 1,000 years ago, this UNESCO World Heritage Site today is a spellbinding archeological and geological treasure. Groups can take day trips or camp overnight at the site.
Under the stars at this ancient pueblo, inspiration is unmatched.