Skirvin Hotel gets $4.3 million renovation 

click to enlarge Renovations and enhancements to The Skirvin Hotel cost an estimated $4.3 million. | Photo Gazette / file
  • Renovations and enhancements to The Skirvin Hotel cost an estimated $4.3 million. | Photo Gazette / file

When Gerald Rappaport made the move from Kansas City, Missouri, to Oklahoma City to take over as general manager of The Skirvin Hilton hotel, he asked his wife Nancy to stay in the hotel for a weekend. Rappaport, who previously served as GM of Hotel Phillips in Kansas City, would be overseeing a revamp of venue and wanted to get her take on the elegant landmark.

“When I moved here a year ago, my wife stayed in the hotel one weekend and said to me, ‘I don’t understand why you’re remodeling. The hotel is in beautiful shape and the carpet is clean,’” Rappaport said of the historic building that first opened to guests in 1911. “Some hotels think about doing partials anywhere between nine and 12 years. You know, our hotel was really well taken care of, and it showed incredibly well for a hotel that was nine years old. I explained to her that we really wanted to stay ahead of the competition.”

Less than a decade after The Skirvin Hilton, a distinctive, three-tower building at First Street and Broadway Avenue, reopened after almost two decades of disuse, the elegant downtown landmark is now wrapping up a $4.3 million renovation. Nothing structural changed during the project, but an extensive update in décor and first-floor accommodations gives the high-end hotel an edge in an increasingly competitive Oklahoma City marketplace, Rappaport said.

“I think it started when we recognized that the hotel was approaching the 10-year mark and that it was time to start looking at a soft goods renovation,” he said. “And as new competition entered the market, we thought to ourselves, ‘Let’s do this sooner rather than later, pre-empt the competition and stay ahead of the curve,’ if you will.”

‘Protect and enhance’

“Soft goods” is a term employed in the travel and accommodations industry, and it mostly addresses textiles like bedding, window treatments, cushions, wallpaper and carpeting. When Skirvin Hotel opened under new owner Hilton in February 2007 following a $55 million renovation and restoration, it featured a classically lavish interior that evoked the venue’s storied past. But the heaviness of the lobby-level drapery and industry trends toward simplicity and clean design drove the hotel to undertake the textile overhaul.

“The primary focus was to protect and enhance the integrity of the building and the customer experience, to make the hotel more relevant while retaining the historic integrity and all the while improving and enhancing the guest experience,” Rappaport said. “We started with all of the guest rooms and the desire to create something that was simple and clean and elegant and soft and comforting, almost spa-like. We used soft, subtle tones; the kind of coffee tones that you’d experience in a spa environment.”

In this case, “clean” is not just a design term. Rappaport said the Skirvin did away with the heavy bolster pillows that adorned the beds for practical reasons. With the new design, every piece of fabric in the guest rooms can be laundered.

click to enlarge New soft goods — carpet, wallpaper and cushions — transformed The Skirvin Hilton’s lobby into a popular, comfortable guest area. | Photo The Skirvin Hilton / provided
  • New soft goods — carpet, wallpaper and cushions — transformed The Skirvin Hilton’s lobby into a popular, comfortable guest area. | Photo The Skirvin Hilton / provided

Red Piano Lounge

The lobby and Red Piano Lounge received more dramatic makeovers. After 105 years of service, the lobby’s original ceramic tile floor was retired in favor of black-and-white marble, and the red drapes are no more, revealing the architectural greatness of Bill Skirvin’s details, including 29 hand-sculpted Bacchus designs along the ceiling.

Appropriately, Red Piano Lounge now boasts a new red piano, along with peripheral bench-style seating that replaces some of the heavier pieces and opens up the room.

“People [practically] live in our lobby now,” Rappaport said. “It’s beautiful and has great furniture and aesthetics, and it’s uncovered the beautiful Gothic design that was part of the original hotel.”

Not all the upgrades are cosmetic. The Skirvin now uses the Hilton HHonors app check-in, which allows cardholders to check in digitally and select their rooms without visiting the front desk.

Rappaport said about 10 percent of guests use the service, but while the majority still check in the old-fashioned way, the idea is to provide a tailored service to everyone who stays at The Skirvin.

“We think of ourselves as a hotel delivering a very personalized stay,” he said. “The biggest message is that we really, really pride ourselves on providing that boutique experience that you don’t get anywhere else.”

Print headline: New threads, With its $4.3 million makeover, Skirvin Hilton hotel upgrades its style.

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