This week, Reflections begins a two-part series on one of Sumter's most attractive buildings, the Imperial Hotel. In part one of the series, we will explore the exterior of the building, the lobby, a barber shop and the hotel's main attraction: the dining room.
This imposing structure was located "nearly opposite the A.C.L. Passenger Station facing Telephone St." The building was designed to help meet demands placed on Sumter's ability to accommodate the surging number of tourist and "drummers" (traveling salesmen) venturing to this community via the railroads. The City of Sumter plans to construct a new water department on the former site of the Imperial Hotel. The foundation of this structure still exists.
In April 1913, Mr. Andrew L. Jackson, the owner and manager of Imperial Hotel, stated that he would have a public opening "with music by a band and other attractions." Many visitors flocked to the building, and most seemed pleased "with the furnishings and appointments, and there were many who did not notice the lack of a full list of furniture for the lobby, which had not arrived."
The Imperial was a handsome three-story brick structure built in the shape of the letter H and consisted of 55 guest rooms. The front of the building was "considered one of the most attractive of any building in this city." It was constructed of tapestry brick on a base of granite "up to the second story, where the gray brick gave place to a dark-red Flemish brick. The trimmings were of terra cotta, which presents a very harmonious and artistic effect seldom equaled and was attractive due to its solidity and strength.
"The inside of the building was attractive and harmoniously finished. Appointments were the best and showed a fine taste in choice and variety which was seldom equaled in hotels, regardless of location. The fixtures were up to date, and modern appliances and appurtenances bordered on luxury and were drawing cards for early hotels. Electric lights, a circulating system of hot and cold water, oscillating electric fans in the lobby and dining room, and local and long-distance telephones in every room were some of the attractive features of the hotel." The front entrance was located on Harvin Street, and boarders also entered from a driveway on the right side of the building. Guests also entered the building from an alleyway on the left, allowing them an entrance into the cafe through a loggia located in front where there was a marquee of colored glass.
As one entered the lobby using the main entrance, he or she would notice a writing room and a drug store located on the right side. Located at this part of the hotel was a barber shop, two sample rooms and back rooms for the bell boys that included a toilet, etc. Facing the entrance was the clerk's office, located behind this was the proprietor's private office, and on the side a back entrance for baggage. To the left was the dining room, the cafe, pantry and kitchen.
The lobby was entered over marble steps onto a terraza floor. The walls had an ivory finish with a base of marble and mahogany borders. "Light came through beautiful leaded glass windows, which were placed in all the openings over the staircase. There were three columns through the center of the lobby, and the room was lighted at night by four clusters of electric lights placed near the ceiling and conveniently shaded. The lobby was furnished with leather upholstered oak furniture of old English design. These pieces were considered substantial and comfortable. The writing room was furnished with tables and chairs of the same opulent style."
The barber shop could be entered from the lobby or from the side entrance. Two sample rooms were located on this side of the building and were small, although well equipped for this purpose. Besides the sample rooms, the hotel had several rooms located on South Main Street in the McCallum Realty Co. building that used to display samples. These rooms had large elevators for customer use. A feature that pleased those who stopped at the hotel was the back entrance to bring in luggage and a space to place it near the stairway close to the clerk's desk.
"Residents were treated to striking artistic simplicity as they entered the dining room of the hotel. The floor was hardwood, covered with decorative art squares. The walls, finished in ivory color, had mahogany borders and base boards. There were three columns standing in line, partly dividing the room. There were 16 heavy oak tables for two, three or four persons. The light was furnished by electric globes which were shaded and placed in the lobby. The dining room was a principal attraction of the hotel, and the facility was operated on the European plan with meals served a la carte, and a businessmen's breakfast and lunch were served when called for. Regarding the dining room, one could dine in the cafe, which was in a separate room. Here, meals were served as late as one o'clock at night, and three tables and a lunch counter were placed there for customers. Adjoining the cafe was the pantry, from where food was passed from the kitchen to the cafe and then from the kitchen to the dining room. The kitchen was a large room located in the rear of the ground floor. Automatic egg cookers and every up-to-date kitchen utensil, which made cooking better and easier, were found in this kitchen. Dishes were made of aluminum, regarded as more sanitary and better than others of its kind. Mr. John D. Brady, experienced in operating hotels in Asheville and Knoxville, had charge of the culinary department of the hotel. He was also employed as steward of the buildings."
In the basement were the boiler rooms and the heating system. Also housed in this location were additional store rooms and the servants' dining room.
Information and photos used to complete this article were taken from Item archives. Some editing was required.
Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 774-1294.