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Unusual Stays with a Unique Past at Historic Hotels in the US and Europe

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Kennedy School Hotel BarSure, hotel options range from high- to low-end, from cookie-cutter to unique digs in almost every city.

But for those who prefer some history with their stay, why not check into a hotel that that embraces its past?

Repurposed hotels are housed in buildings with a story, often incorporating quirky elements that pay homage to its grittier past.


Banks, schools and train stations are some of the more unusual hotel conversion choices within the U.S. 
The 214-room Westin Minneapolis, which opened its doors in 2007, is housed in the old Farmers & Mechanics Bank building. Originally built in 1941, the landmark features the original 34-foot vaulted bank lobby, marble staircase and wood carved emblems signifying the leading industries of the World War II era.

On the main floor, you’ll find B*A*N*K, a restaurant featuring a 40-foot-long dining counter that was originally where the bank tellers worked. Through June 28, take advantage of an $89 per night rate any Friday or Saturday night.

The Depot Minneapolis Great HallThrough September 2009, regular rates are about $129 per night, with various half-off specials available. 612-333-4006,

Another Minneapolis gem is The Depot, a former train station that operated for nearly seven decades since the late 1800s. Depot Minneapolis was in full operation until the last train left in 1971.

In July 2001, it opened as a hotel, which features historic suites that are up to 950 square feet with 12-foot ceilings. Rates start $99 for both hotels in the depot: The Renaissance and the Residence Inn by Marriott. There is also a water park, ice rink and restaurant in the site, which has been largely maintained to its original appearance. 612-375-1700,

Brewery at the Kennedy SchoolMcMenamins Hotels & Pubs is known for restoring historic buildings into boutique hotels.

Built in 1911, a prime example is Edgefield, which originally operated as the Multnomah County Poor Farm where hogs, poultry and a variety of crops were manufactured for the community. It later served as a nursing home and closed in 1982.

The building remained shuttered until McMenamins purchased the property in 1990. The property now includes a pub, movie theatre, fine dining, a winery, brewery, distillery, golf course, gardens, vineyard and space for special events. Rates range from $30 to $175 per night.

Or you can go back to school in Oregon’s Kennedy School in Portland, and the Old St. Francis School in Bend.

Kennedy School ExteriorAlso McMenamin properties, both hotels pay homage to their former states with elements such as original chalkboards and cloakrooms. More modern amenities include Internet, breweries and movie theaters. Rates start at $109 per night.

The Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee is a 100-year-old former warehouse turned luxury boutique hotel.

Kennedy School Hotel PubIn its history, the building also operated as a bedding company until 1927, then cold storage until 2005, and then closed its doors until the hotel took over. Because of its central location near the Harley-Davidson museum, the hotel caters to both business travelers and motorcycle enthusiasts alike, even offering a bike-shipping service. Rates start at $149 but drop as low as $109 a night in the low season. 888-543-4766,

If you’re an island-goer, try Tortola’s Sugar Mill Hotel in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was built nearly 400 years ago as a sugar mill and rum distillery and currently has 23 air-conditioned rooms. The main dining room has been restored from the ruins, where dinner is served by candlelight with a menu that changes nightly. Rates start at $240 per night and go up to $695 for a two-bedroom deluxe villa. 800-462-8834,


Harlingen Hotel CraneIn comparison to American repurposed hotels, Europeans seem to be even more creative when determining what can become a suitable suite. From prisons and jumbo jets to shipping cranes and sewage pipes, there’s no shortage of interesting options.

Langholmen Hotel didn’t begin its existence so luxuriously. Home to Crowd Remand Prison, which was built in the 1840s and closed in 1975, there is plenty of history in each room. Each cell/room has two to four beds, wireless Internet and starts at $89 per night. A portion of the site also operates as a hostel, which starts at $32 per night for adults. Langholmen is Stockholm’s seventh-largest island, and perhaps the most mythical because of the old prison. A museum is open daily between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and guided tours are available on weekends. 08-720-85-00,

Jumbo Hostel Cockpit BedsAnother gem in the region is Jumbo Hostel which resides in a 30-year-old jumbo jet parked outside the Stockholm-Arlanda Airport in Sweden. There are 25 guest rooms, flat screen televisions, Wi-Fi and plenty of luggage storage … overhead!

The downside is shared bathrooms, which are unsurprisingly in the back of the plane; the upside is $40 per night rates. Adventurous honeymooners take note: there is even a luxury wedding suite in the cockpit with an unbeatable runway view. 46-8-593-604-00,

The Netherlands also has its fair share of interesting accommodations, including De Vrouwe van Stavoren Hotel. Here, alongside traditional hotel rooms, guests can sleep in 15,000-liter wine casks! Four casks are available, complete with an en suite bathroom, a tiny sitting room, and televisions. Rates start at $40 in the off season but are still as low as $150 a night during holidays. 0514-681202,

Another Netherlands spot is not for the faint-hearted.

The Harlingen Harbour Crane, a former freighter shipping crane built in 1967, hangs 55 feet in the sky!

Harlingen Crane InteriorRooms boast an unbelievable panorama of the Harlingen and Wadden Sea. The crane even moves 360 degrees at your command—no small feat for an untrained guest that far up in the air.

The same company that owns the crane hotel has also converted a lifeboat and a lighthouse into hotels. Rates start at $408 per couple per night, which includes breakfast. 31-517 414410,

And if you’re really on a budget…

Sleeping inside a sewage pipe doesn’t sound like the most romantic getaway, but for a nominal “pay as you wish” rate, it at least makes for a good story!

Das Park Hotel in Linz, Austria is located on the shore of the Danube River. Don’t worry, it’s totally clean. Each pipe comes with a double bed, blankets, a sleeping bag, lights, power outlets, and secure entry.

The hotel only operates May through October, when the weather is warm enough, but that’s a plus considering that showers aren’t heated. 065-841-5850,

If sewage pipes are a bit much for you, try Null Stern Hotel, a zero-star hotel in a subterranean subnuclear bunker in Sevelen, Switzerland.

There’s no daylight, TV or private bathrooms, but for rates starting at $8 per night, it’s another worthwhile story! 41-71-222-10-90,

By Dara Bramson for

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