Carolina Inn celebrates renovations, history

Jun. 28, 2013 @ 05:14 PM

As guests stood under chandeliers and sipped North Carolina wine at the Carolina Inn Thursday evening, they celebrated the inn’s latest renovation, which includes an expansive and intertwined history of UNC-Chapel Hill and the inn.

The renovation, which was completed in two phases over four and a half years, cost $19 million, said Jack Schmidt, general manager of the Carolina Inn. The night represented the inn’s complete renovation, minus two bathrooms, which were 48 hours behind, Schmidt said.

“Virtually all of the areas, including the lobby, the Carolina Crossroads restaurant, the bar, all of our meeting and function rooms, most of our landscaping and all 185 guest rooms have been fully updated or totally redone as part of this most recent renovation,” Schmidt said in a speech.

Additionally, Schmidt said, the inn’s air conditioning and heating systems were replaced, and the elevators were redone.

This was the inn’s sixth renovation since it was established in 1924, said Kenneth Zogry, the Carolina Inn’s historian.

Carolyn Elfland, former UNC associate vice chancellor for campus services, who retired Friday, said she’s been coming to the inn since 1964, when she traveled to Chapel Hill to interview for college.

Elfland said that before her first visit, her parents called the inn to “warn” employees that she would be practicing violin in her room every night.

“They called up the Inn and told them they were sending me and (that) I had to practice every night, and to put me in a room where I wouldn’t interrupt the other guests,” Elfland said. “…Never fear, I did not practice it.”

The area of the inn that Efland stayed in — in an end room — has since been expanded, she said. She came to the inn four years before its late-1960s renovation, during which it was reoriented to face Pittsboro Street.

Elfland, who has worked with the inn since 1990 as a university representative, said this renovation was paid for with inn revenue, and that no university money was used.

Zogry said that when renovation planning began in 2009, it was decided that history would be a big focus.

“It’s the best place on campus to see UNC history,” Zogry said of the finished product. “There’s no place to go to get a real good sense of UNC history in terms of permanent displays.”

As part of the renovation, the inn’s corridors were divided into 12 sections and decorated according to different UNC academic departments or schools. The corridors feature about 700 images; in total, the inn features about 1,000 historical images, Zogry said.

Alumnus Andy Griffith appears in the drama section; William Friday, former UNC system president, in the education section. Zogry said the range of featured faculty and alumni had to go into at least the mid-1960s, or else “it would be all dead white men on the wall.”

In the inn’s bar, cartoons from The Daily Tar Heel, the student-run newspaper in Chapel Hill, reflect events in history from as far back as the 1940s. One cartoon from 1963 references the death of President John F. Kennedy, published in the paper a day after it happened. Another shows a rowdy Franklin Street from April 2009, published three days after UNC’s men’s basketball team won the national championship.

The inn even managed to keep some of the local school rivalry alive. A photograph of the newly expanded gym shows a punching bag covered in Duke University prints.

Efland said this renovation also focused on continued sustainability and buying local, using “as many North Carolina vendors as we could.”

Eighty percent of the furniture in the inn’s guest rooms was manufactured in North Carolina, said Stephen Dahlem, sales manager. Additionally, the guest room carpet is 100 percent recyclable and the toilet is a dual-flush to conserve water, Dahlem said.

Style-wise, Zogry said that all of the inn’s renovations have kept intact some of its original Colonial Revival aesthetic while adding modern touches. The lobby, for example, features splashes of bright, lively prints.

Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison of the Chapel Hill Town Council said that he thinks the renovation was done smoothly.

“I mean, you had to tell me there was a renovation going on,” he said.

Linda Convissor, director of local relations for UNC, said she stayed at the Carolina Inn during her first night in Chapel Hill, in a garret room.

“It was a very pathetic room,” Convissor said, adding that more than one renovation has been completed since that time.

Schmidt, the general manager, said he wants UNC students to feel like they can come to the inn and see the history.

“I know sometimes we’re a little intimidating, because we’re kind of like going to grandma’s house. You’re afraid you’re going to knock something over in here,” Schmidt said. “But really, that’s not who we want to be.”