Graduate Bilks The Biltmore

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The Biltmore Hotel, built in 1922 and still the oldest hotel in Providence, now fashions itself the Graduate – the Graduate Hotel Providence

Graduate Bilks The Biltmore

By David Brussat, Architecture Here and There

The Biltmore Hotel, built in 1922 and still the oldest hotel in Providence, now fashions itself the Graduate – the Graduate Hotel Providence. It is the latest in a chain of hotels in college towns that hope to cash in on the wealth of the academic community, especially in places like Providence where Ivy League colleges abide.

The Graduate? Cue Dustin Hoffman!

On second thought, don’t. Isn’t he a privileged white male? Fie on him!

I will continue to call it the Biltmore, because that is what people around here know it as. Its management thinks it has done Providence a favor by keeping the sacred red neon Biltmore sign up on top. And so it has, but that won’t protect the hotel from the danger of leading with its chin. Mark my words: its days as the Graduate are numbered, and it will be the Biltmore again soon enough.

How do I know? Well, I watched the Graduate fold immediately after complaints that each guest room boasted a portrait of Buddy “Vincent A.” Cianci, Jr. He was the late but not quite great mayor of Providence who did prison time for corruption but still emerged with his manufactured reputation for reviving Providence intact. Buddy was good at talking up Providence while others did the heavy lifting of its actual revival – part of which was to work behind the scenes to keep Cianci’s grasping hand out of the pockets of the private firms hired to do the work. Many stories went around of companies that refused to relocate to the state capital because of its mayor’s gangsta rep. Providence’s revival succeeded less because of Cianci than in spite of him.

So I agree with removing his portraits from the guest rooms. Hanging them so prominently only showed how little thought went into the historical tidbits that are the claim to fame of the hotel’s new decor. As are most universities today, Brown is all about finding things to complain about. Without knowing exactly what features of history are highlighted in the hotel, I nevertheless foresee a constant drumbeat of feigned outrage from guests – or the sons and daughters (if I’m not being too binary) of guests. Or from new hires at Brown – especially its burgeoning bureaucracies tasked with holding the hands of its woke communities. Imagine the quad cred of a new deputy assistant provost of dietary diversity, still house-hunting on College Hill, whose first day on the job is accompanied by news of a scandal he triggered over the insufficiently  prioritized attention paid by the hotel decor to the marginalization of this or that. You fill in the blank. Do not underestimate the hunger of the eyes that seek this prize. There will be snooping around the Graduate. The Cianci portrait scandal only scratches the surface of this iceberg of micro-aggressive possibilities.

Anyway, the portraits are “campy”, said Scott MacKay, of Rhode Island NPR.

I have my popcorn ready. But my big complaint, only marginally ameliorated by the removal of the Cianci portraits, is that the hotel’s interior rehab is poorly designed. The guest rooms are garish in the extreme. The lobby has lurid touches that diminish what of elegance remains. The exterior has dodged the bullet so far, though I’m worried that some version of “at least for now” attaches to every mention of the hotel’s retention of the neon Biltmore sign. The ballroom has dodged the bullet, but how long will it hold out? What happened to plans announced by the Graduate’s developer a year ago for the return of the Biltmore’s old top-floor restaurant, which I discussed in “L’Apogee, here we come!”? Not happening, I t seems. Will some woke wonk at the corporate level decide that the existing entrance canopy needs to be replaced with something that better reflects our era? The Biltmore dodged that bullet in 2003 when a local firm was hired to design a goofy replacement. Thankfully, nothing happened. Then.

My wish for the new hotel brand’s success is tentative. I want its managers to realize that it will profit not by robbing Providence of its beloved old hotel on behalf of a feckless fad but by shifting slowly from this theft back toward that old hotel over time. Removing Buddy Cianci’s face is a good beginning.