WASHINGTON DC – Two hotels in Pennsylvania were named Friday (Sept. 22, 2023) to this year’s list of the top 25 historic lodgings in the nation recognized for their collections of museum-quality art.
Making the 2023 roster of “Top 25 Historic Hotels of America’s Most Magnificent Art Collections” were the Historic Hotel Bethlehem in Bethlehem PA (35 miles from Pottstown), and The George Washington Hotel in Washington PA (282 miles). Their rankings were announced by Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Many properties inducted into Historic Hotels of America were founded by art collectors, program organizers explained. Others are managed in part by art museum professionals. The list’s inclusion of the Bethlehem and Washington locations represents opportunities for their guests to experience a variety of artworks: furniture, paintings, sculpture, augmented reality, and fountains.
Art in the Historic Hotel Bethlehem
“Historic Hotel Bethlehem .. is home to eight murals painted by George Gray in 1936. Seven of these murals currently hang in the Mural Ballroom, and the eighth hangs directly outside the ballroom,” according to information provided by the program.
“In 1936, the American Hotels Corporation took over the management of Hotel Bethlehem and commissioned Gray to paint the history of Bethlehem for this hotel. It was part of a vast new mural program for the corporation’s upscale hotels. Measuring up to 30 feet wide, the artworks became minor landmarks in their cities.”
“The murals painted for Historic Hotel Bethlehem depict stories related to the city’s past: ‘The Walking Purchase (1737)’; ‘The Founding of Bethlehem (1741)’; ‘General Benjamin Franklin’s Visit (1755)’; ‘The Liberty Bell in Bethlehem (1777)’; ‘General Casimir Pulaski (Father of the American Calvary) visit (1778)’; ‘Asa Packer & the founding of Lehigh University (1865)’; ‘Iron & Steel Industry’; and an eighth mural of a map of ‘The Walking Purchase.’”
“Gray painted more than 200 murals in his lifetime, most of which were commissioned by the American Hotels Corporation. Today, only 26 of his hotel murals survive. The murals at Historic Hotel Bethlehem are the only set in its original location, and one of only two complete surviving sets painted by Gray.”
Art in The George Washington Hotel
“In the 1930s, the popular George Washington Hotel … commissioned a prominent local artist named Malcolm Parcell to create six murals for The Pioneer Room, a dining venue at the popular hotel.”
“Depicting artistic interpretations of the National Road and Washington PA, Parcell’s artwork became regarded as an important cultural attraction in just a matter of months. The murals show idealized depictions of six American icons: ‘The Conestoga Wagon,’ ‘Pony Express,’ ‘Pack Horse,’ ‘Stage Coach,’ ‘Lafayette visits Washington,’ and ‘David Bradford’s Escape.’”
“Parcell painted the murals over the course of six months, during which time he was a guest of the hotel. Each mural is presented with a handwritten caption describing the artwork. The murals are the largest and longest-lasting set of murals by Parcell, who won the 1925 Carnegie Prize for Art.”
A role in historic preservation
Historic Hotels of America is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing, celebrating, and promoting the finest historic hotels in the United States. The trust was chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1949 as a private non-profit organization.
To be nominated and selected for membership in Historic Hotels of America, a hotel must be at least 50 years old, designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and recognized as having historical significance.
Photos by Travels With The Post from its archives