Once a junior high school, Hotel Grinnell is a chic and modern luxury hotel that has earned an A+ in our grade book. Located just an hour’s drive east of Des Moines, Iowa, Hotel Grinnell melds its literal old school history with innovative designs and amenities for today’s contemporary traveler.
A visit to the principal’s office
We had the pleasure of being hosted for a complimentary night by Hotel Grinnell. We met owner/operator Angela Harrington in the lobby when we arrived for our tour and stay. The former principal’s office was our first stop. Having been a principal himself, Steve found this bright and cheerful room a far cry from the stressful space where he spent his days reviewing school budgets and disciplining ill-behaved middle schoolers.
Featuring a king-sized bed with a modern steel frame the former principal’s office is now a luxurious place to relax and unwind. Harrington salvaged the maple floors throughout the hotel and, while refinished, they still show signs of students’ foot traffic and scratches from moving desks.
Old school theme
We made our way down the long, wide hallways visiting several of the 45 guest rooms. Harrington shared the history of the building and her dream of making it a hotel. She moved to Grinnell in 2009 to lead the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. When she arrived, she made her first objective to attract a hotel and event center to town. With this project, she made it happen, while preserving the history of this iconic building.
There are nods to the building’s school history throughout. Guests receive room keys in a “hall pass” sleeve and neck ties serve as do not disturb signals on the doors.
The Periodic Table at Hotel Grinnell
A space appropriately named The Periodic Table serves as the hotel’s bar and small plates eatery.
The on-site bar is a far cry from what once was the cafeteria. The Periodic Table now offers a full bar and unique, handcrafted cocktails like a “Kinetic Energy” and “Spontaneous Combustion.”
Indoor seating and lounge space abound. Guests and the public also have access to an outdoor patio space featuring a small stage for live music and fire pits.
History of Hotel Grinnell
Built in 1921, the building served as a public school until the 70s when it was closed and gifted to the City of Grinnell. For years, it housed city offices but much of the building was underutilized. In 2012, Harrington had the idea of purchasing the old school and turning it into a luxury hotel. It took her five years to secure funding and architectural plans but once she did, it took only 11 months to renovate.
Hotel Grinnell opened in September 2017 and has quickly become a popular destination hotel. It has also attracted dozens of brides, grooms, and wedding parties. Its sexy and sophisticated penthouse suite has a private dressing room and salon that is perfect for the big day.
Gymnasium now a ball room
A step inside the former gymnasium that now serves as a ballroom brought back memories of junior high school for me. I could easily envision my classmates and me lifting parachute or gliding across the glossy wooden floor on scooters.
The old school’s auditorium got a facelift as well. It now sports new, black seating and a center aisle which make it a perfect place for a conference speaker, concert, or wedding.
Eco-friendly and lots of amenities
We should also note that Harrington thoughtfully designed guest rooms and public spaces to be comfortable and eco-friendly. Fresh air is piped into rooms continuously from the outdoors and beds are dressed with Egyptian Cotton luxury sheets from Parachute.
Hotel Grinnell has taken care of little details to make your stay special. They provide handy charging stations on each bedside table and counter-high desks that can be used for work or dinner. They also have bicycles available to tool around town.
The wide array of art that adorns the walls also impressed us. Harrington told us that there nearly 300 pieces of art displayed in the hotel and no two are the same.
As travel writers, we spend dozens of nights in hotel rooms each year and Hotel Grinnell has certainly been one of our favorites. In addition to the uniqueness of the building and luxurious guest rooms, the staff at Hotel Grinnell are at the top of their class. With hearts like teachers and friendly smiles, they take great care of their guests and are a big reason Hotel Grinnell earned an A+ in our grade book.
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