Luxurious Hotel Grinnell beautifully combines past and present

Converted from a former school, Hotel Grinnell keeps true to its roots while honoring the community.
Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 8:31 PM CDT
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GRINNELL, Iowa (KCRG) - As you walk through the halls and staircases of Hotel Grinnell, you might suddenly get the urge that you’re running late for class.

But don’t worry, you won’t be docked any points for waking up late here. The building actually served as the town’s junior high school from 1921 until 1978. In 1978, the school sold it to the city, which then used it for office space.

The building sat mostly empty until 2012 when Angela Harrington came up with the idea of flipping it into a hotel and event center.

“I really wanted this hotel to be a place where you could do a romantic getaway, have a wedding, but also bring your friends and family and do all of the things that we have to offer in the community,” Harrington said.

After several years of funding, planning, and an 11-month renovation, Hotel Grinnell opened in September 2017. With the help of historic tax credits and the Iowa Reinvestment act and the city of Grinnell, it all came together, according to Harrington.

“It was really like the planets aligned with those programs because, without all of them, it couldn’t have happened, but they all lined up at the same time and we were able to make a 45-room upscale hotel and grand ballroom and event center happen,” Harrington said.

While Harrington said there wasn’t any apprehension from the community, the project was met with disbelief and skepticism.

“We did a community a tour in the very early days right before we opened,” Harrington said. There were people in the following weeks saying, ‘oh, they’re never going to get that happen.’ And then people would say, ‘no, we took a tour, it really is, it really happened,’ so that was a really fun part.”

Believe it or not, an old school makes a great hotel.

“The old janitor closets for the school make great housekeeping closets, and also the theatre and the ballroom almost required very little flip additionally,” Harrington said. “The gymnasium is our events center, we have all kinds of weddings, typically in most years. We also have the school’s auditorium, so we see also wedding ceremonies and all kinds of different conferences that type of thing in a normal year.”

Harrington has been able to find the perfect mix of giving a wink and nod to the building’s history but also making it a luxurious getaway.

“So, the entry is actually the old entry--the main entrance to the junior high school,” Harrington said. “As you come in the front doors, that’s where the old superintendent’s office used to be. So our front desk is located kind of in the superintendent’s office and the principal’s office.”

The hotel has done a good job of keeping the nostalgia of a junior high school. Every room has a chalkboard in every room, an eraser, and, of course, a piece of chalk. The comment cards that you fill out when you leave are actually in the style of a report card and you give each section a letter grade. To be filled out with, of course, a #2 pencil.

In addition, every piece of art, all 300 pieces, are different. But the hotel does well to not overpower Grinnell’s charm.

“The hotel is in keeping with that charm you’re feeling, but it lets you experience that charm for 24 hours, and the city really is different in the evening and the night and the morning,” Harrington said. “It really lets you immerse yourself in living like a local for even just a day.”

Since it’s opening, the hotel has seen 13,000 bookings, giving people a chance to experience Grinnell and Iowa.

“There’s also lots of arts and culture and it rustles beyond its weight as a rural community of 10,000,” Harrington said. “It feels like a really small urban slice.”

And before you go to your room, don’t forget your hall pass, or you’ll be marked absent. (It holds your room key!)

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