Downtown Chattanooga's Read House rediscovers its past during renovation [photos]

Contributed photo by Avocet Hospitality / The renovation of the lobby of The Read House hotel included restoration of the original Russian Walnut.
Contributed photo by Avocet Hospitality / The renovation of the lobby of The Read House hotel included restoration of the original Russian Walnut.

The Read House has reopened the hotel's historic side after a big makeover, including returning its main entrance to M.L. King Boulevard in a nod to the past.

"We discovered when looking back that the original entrance was at MLK," said Wesley Bloomfield Sang of owner Avocet Hospitality Group.

She said a former ownership group had "the bad idea" to shift the main entrance to Broad Street when Ninth Street was renamed after the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after 1981.

photo Contributed photo by Avocet Hospitality / The Read House originally included a billards room similar to this one in the refurbished hotel.

"We tried to take it back to what was original to the hotel," Sang said.

The work so far, part of a $27 million renovation when finished next spring, included completely rehabbing the 141 rooms in the historic portion of the hotel at M.L. King and Broad. That includes the so-called "haunted" room, No. 311, which the hotel plans to rent only if asked, Sang said.

"We won't sell it unless it's requested," she said, noting it has been furnished with period items hearkening back to the 1920s and 1930s. That's around the time when someone allegedly died in the room.

Also, the hotel's refurbishing included a 10th floor penthouse, Sang said. That room can serve as luxury space or a hospitality suite, renting from about $500 to close to $1,000 per night depending on demand, she said.

In addition, an upscale steakhouse called Bridgeman's Chophouse is expected to open within about two weeks in space off the lobby which had held Porter's, Sang said. It's named after Peter Bridgeman, who was a well-known employee of The Read House for 47 years and called "Peter Rabbit," she said.

Within a few weeks, work is to start on the 100 or so rooms in the Manor Building, the newer part of The Read House, Sang said.

Charleston, S.C.-based Avocet, owner and operator of independent hotels, acquired The Read House in 2016 and started the renovation in late 2017 of the older portion, which dates to 1926.

During the first phase of renovation, the older part of the structure was closed while rooms were completely rebuilt with all new layouts, walls, plumbing, electrical, technology, and furnishings, according to Avocet.

The public areas, including the grand lobby, Silver Ballroom, and the Green Room were restored to retain the historic nature of the hotel, the company said. All of the plaster and silver leaf in the Silver Ballroom has been redone. The original Russian Walnut in the grand lobby was restored, stripped, cleaned, and polished.

Jon Weitz, president and owner of Avocet, said The Read House was the premier place for social gatherings and lavish parties during the heyday of the hotel.

"Almost everyone had a great story of a celebration that had occurred at The Read House," he said. "These stories made us realize that The Read House needed to be reborn as a Roaring '20s hotel - Gatsby style."

Avocet worked with local architecture firm Artech and hotel interior designer Deborah Forrest, of ForrestPerkins, to create the vision for the rebirth of the hotel.

Historic accounts indicated The Read House originally included a library seating area, as well as a lobby bar and billiards room. Those areas were recreated as part of the renovation to make the hotel as authentic as possible to the original vision of Samuel Read in 1926, according to Avocet.

Ken Merkel, the hotel's general manager, said he wants people who stay there to feel they are the guest of honor at a Roaring '20s party.

"We are definitely trying to create a holistic experience. We want to give you more than just a place to sleep and a hot shower," he said.

Sang said Avocet is positioning the hotel to serve an upscale downtown market similar to the nearby Westin and recently opened boutique hotel known as The Edwin.

"We're in the playing field with them," she said, with regular rooms with a single queen starting at about $189 per night.

But, Sang said, The Read House is the only one that's a historic building.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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