Franklin Hotel Transforms to Acorn Corner
With a facelift and a few nips and tucks, the Grand Old Lady of Main Street is ready for a new life under a new identity.
There probably aren’t many Kent State University alumni who haven’t passed through the Franklin Hotel doors during its many reincarnations since first opening in 1920. Many today can probably recall nights out at The Deck in the basement, the Townhouse or more recently, Screwy Louie’s and Y2K.
Now, after more than 10 years of standing empty and gutted with its future uncertain, the Franklin Hotel’s recent renovation and rebirth has reaffirmed its place in Kent history as “the Grand Old Lady of Main Street.”
By the late 1980s, the once-lively venue fell into disrepair brought on by financial troubles of the building’s owners. The city of Kent condemned the building by 2000, and it would sit empty for more than a decade.
When developer Ron Burbick embarked on downtown Kent’s transformation in the mid 2000s, part of his renovation plans included the Franklin Hotel, which he purchased in 2012, to the delight of the city officials, historians and locals alike.
“Among all the good things going on downtown, it was extremely important that this building be saved,” says architect Doug
Fuller, ’73, whose Kent-based Fuller Design Group Architects firm redesigned not only the Franklin Hotel, but also Kent’s Acorn Alley I and II redevelopment. “To lose it was to lose a piece of Kent State history. The only reason that building was built there was because of the growth of the university. It’s part of Kent history and part of students’ history — it’s very important.”
Indeed, the five-story Franklin Hotel was the hub of downtown activity when it was first built, with 50 guest rooms, a formal lobby, a ballroom and cafeteria, as well as a billiard parlor and barbershop. Many conventions were held there, as were civic association gatherings, university happenings and elite social events.
Nicknamed “The Grand Old Lady of Main Street,” the hotel was the tallest building in the city and a preferred place to stay due to its location away from the boarding houses, smoke and noise of the Water Street rail station.
According to Kent lore, celebrities who stayed at the hotel over the years included federal agent Eliott Ness and bandleaders Guy Lombardo and Harry James. Amelia Earhart was rumored to have stayed there, as well, but local historians say they can’t verify that.
Flash forward to April 2013, when a grand opening was held to herald the renovation and the building’s new tenants — Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, a financial services firm and apartments on the top two floors. A jazz and wine bar is planned for the basement level later in 2013.
Not bad for a building that many feared would be felled by a wrecking ball. And so it seems the “Grand Old Lady” has found the secret to a long life. She stared down the odds, she refused to crumble during tough times and found a way to stay vibrant and alive as the years roll on. Long may she live!