When Glenn McGregor was a young man arriving in the Frederick, Md., of 1907, he spent his first night in what was already a historic landmark: the City Hotel.
Today, at 94, McGregor lives on the same site. But the City Hotel now is known as the Homewood Retirement Center.
What has happened to this hotel is typical of the trend toward refurbishing old buildings and putting them to new uses while retaining the original flavor. o
Like many an urban building of its time, the City Hotel fell victim to changing times. For years after its opening in 1803, the hotel had played host to notables: the Marquis de Lafayette, George Custer and William Henry Harrison who stayed there on the way to his inauguration. In 1908, the hotel was refurbished and became known as the New City Hotel.
But in 1921, part of the original structure was demolished and the hotel became known as the Francis Scott Key, an elegant establishment renowned for its fine Wedgwood Room restaurant, its cozy Buffalo Room Bar (decorated by local artist James Pearl) and its massive lobby with Pearl murals depicting the bombardment of Fort McHenry as it might have appeared to Francis Scott Key.
Despite its grandeur, the hotel was unable to weather the decay experienced over the decades in downtown Frederick -- or a fire that gutted an entire floor of the structure. The hotel, which began to need renovation, also was hurt by the recession of 1974.
When the hotel finally closed in 1975, it was bought at auction for $360,000 by Homewood, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
Homewood intended to spend nearly $2 million to turn the hotel building into a retirement home with various types of care for the elderly.
According to Homewood Retirement Center administrator Joseph H. Clem, the acquisition seemed "a great opportunity" because Homewood was then operating four facilities in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and was looking for a fifth near Baltimore and Washington. Frederick County seemed a good area for Homewood to select since at that time it had a shortage of nursing home beds.
In addition, downtown Frederick had undergone a successful and widely publicized rebirth. The building that used to house a grand old hotel now was near banks, churches and theaters, thereby making it possible to help elderly residents stay active as long as possible. The setting also is in keeping with the modern trend toward residential rather than institutional settings for the elderly.
From the surrounding community, however, there was a certain amount of opposition. The former owner of the hotel felt that he perhaps should have sold it to a national chain. Nearby residents feared that turning the hotel into a residential home for the elderly would mean an end to public use of the ballroom, bar and restaurants, as indeed -- because of nursing home regulations -- it did.
But disappointment on the part of Frederick residents gradually turned to enthusiasm after the facility opened in August 1979, and the public got a look at what Homewood had done.
On the upper residential and nursing floors, the structure had been entirely gutted so that steel studs and fireboard could be used and extrawide hallways built to comply with nursing home regulations.
On the lobby and lower levels, every effort had been made to preserve the distinctive features that had made the old hotel famous: the restaurant (now used as a dining hall for residents), the murals and the bar and public meeting rooms.
The center currently is licensed to house 160 residents and at the moment has 112. Two floors now offer comprehensive round-the-clock nursing care, while two more are primarily residential with easy access to nursing services if necessary. The residential floors are set up for overnight conversion to nursing floors, should that be needed, with dummy nurses' stations and call-button wiring already in place. On the lower level, the hotel's beauty shop was renovated for inhouse use.
Community groups still meet on the lower level, including a barbershop quartet that incidentally provides free entertainment for residents of the center. A day-care center for elderly persons still living at home operates in the former coffee shop, under the auspices of the Frederick County Commission on Aging.