Page 2 of 2 Previous
Part of the $382 million investment was renovating French Lick Springs Hotel in 2006 and reopening a casino there to help fund restoration of both properties, which together comprise more than 680 guest rooms and suites. West Baden Springs Hotel opened its doors in 2007, 75 years since the last guests checked out.
“The rescue of West Baden is of national importance. It speaks to the time, the architecture and the builders in the early century,” says Woodward. “It’s something everyone should see at least once.”
Modern vacationers can enjoy many of the same pursuits from a century ago: golf on Donald Ross and Pete Dye golf courses, trail rides, two spas that include mineral baths, swimming, children’s programs and a 20-mile scenic train ride into the Hoosier National Forest. Non-guests also are welcome to take historic tours or a self-guided peek at the hotels.
Riches for everyone
I enjoy wandering French Lick Spring’s lobby, which glitters with gilded trim and faux marble columns. Lush classical paintings draw your eyes to the ceilings. Its casino flashes with enticements, but I find myself more drawn to portraits of famous guests such as Howard Hughes, Louie Armstrong and Bob Hope.
After dining at a casual grill intriguingly built around the French Lick Springs’ decommissioned power plant switches, I return to the quieter vibe of West Baden. As I arrive, a deer stops to stare at me in the gauzy light of a late-winter evening. On a warmer night, I wouldn’t hesitate to settle into a rocking chair on the generous, gracious front porch.
Inside, a cozy library, a peacefully deserted pool, and the atrium’s fireplace decorated with a gnome and forest all tempt me to stay and linger.
But where I really want to be is up on the sixth floor, sitting on the balcony, and savoring a dessert — an appropriately dome-shaped chocolate-covered cake and mousse.
I savor it slowly, watching the illuminated pinnacle of the dome change color from yellow to blue to purple.
I can’t help but yearn for fancy dresses gliding across the mosaic below rather than two teen girls in T-shirts and sweats. But when they, too, stop to gape happily at their surroundings, a thought hits home.
While the era of satin, servants and social seasons has faded away, there is something just as luminous about the middle class enjoying a few days of feeling rather rich.
Lisa Meyers McClintick is a St. Cloud-based travel writer and author of “Day Trips From the Twin Cities.”