My love for old buildings started at a young age. One of my earliest real estate crushes was the Indiana Hotel building, attached to the Embassy Theatre downtown. Looking up into the rows of windows framed by limestone façade, I imaged the grand guests who once stayed inside. I envisioned glamorous ladies dressing for dinner – styling their hair, adorning themselves with sparkling baubles, and gracefully sashaying down the halls. I imagined what it would’ve been like to sleep there in the hotel’s heyday. How did they heat the rooms? Did they share bathrooms? Did any famous people spend the night?
A few years later, I got to know the building even better. I had the privilege to perform on the Embassy stage dozens of times. Back then, the backstage hallways were painted with murals and covered with autographs and fading head shots from past performers. The cramped dressing rooms had faded carpet and peeling paint. But backstage passageways offered plenty to explore and imagine. As we waited for our turn at recitals and dress rehearsals, we’d play hide-and-seek down the halls and tell ghost stories in the Embassy’s ornate, expansive bathrooms.My attachment for the Embassy and Indiana Hotel building was partially inherited. In the ’70s, my dad and uncle donated their time and professional skills to return the Embassy to its former glory. My dad would point out the decorative molding and ceiling designs. “You see that,” he’d say. “That’s gold leaf paint. It has tiny bits of actual gold in it.” (My dad has always known EXACTLY what kind of information would thrill me.)
As a kid, it was hard for me to imagine that such a captivating architectural treasure – the Indiana Hotel – sat empty, collecting cobwebs instead of hosting guests. I told myself that someday, I wanted to buy it and turn it back into a posh hotel, a quirky shopping mall or a complex of studio apartments. Back then I didn’t grasp the kind of expenses such an endeavor would entail. But happily, I don’t have to worry about what will become of the historic structure. Today, the Embassy will unveil recently completed renovations to the Indiana Hotel.
The two-year renovation project included the addition of a rooftop patio, a two-story ballroom, rehearsal and classroom spaces and new administrative offices. The $10-million project included the removal of a wall separating the Embassy Theatre and Indiana Hotel spaces, and made way for a mezzanine lounge, theater bars, concessions, new dressing rooms, an updated box office and a heritage center.
The project started with the construction of the downtown Courtyard Marriot, says Barb Richards, Marketing Director at the Embassy Theatre. “[They] wanted to build in downtown Fort Wayne but only if they had an enclosed entrance to the Grand Wayne Center. The city figured out the way to do that was to go through the third floor of the Indiana Hotel, without affecting the historical nature of the terra cotta. That project made the Embassy Board of Directors wonder what could be done with floors 4, 5,6 and 7. They launched a feasibility study, did a prospectus for potential income, and the Vision for the Embassy project was born.”As the project got underway, close attention was paid to maintaining the building’s historical integrity. “We kept much to the same theme throughout the building in the way of colors. The bathroom vanity legs are the former sink pedestals from the Indiana Hotel,” says Richards. “The biggest compliment we receive is when people say, ‘this looks like it has always been there!’ We kept to the historical nature of the building and it fits so well.”
With the addition of new public spaces, the Embassy Theatre will expand its offerings. This summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the rooftop patio will host “Summer Nights at the Embassy,” a series of evening events with entertainment, a cash bar and food. The renovated spaces are also available for private events, wedding and receptions.
Vision for the Embassy Open House:
Wednesday, March 30th, 2-7 pm
This event is free and open to the public. Visitors are invited to tour the new spaces and learn more about the renovation project. For more info, visit the Facebook event page.