The storied history of The Ivy Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland
The Ivy Hotel is the utmost in comfort, warmth and hospitality. The rooms are filled with unique furnishings, sitting rooms with lovely views of this charming part of Baltimore. The complimentary touches, like your choice of newspaper delivered, the little sewing kit and the plush bedding will make you feel like royalty.
The Ivy Hotel is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion or a sweet weekend getaway. Definitely eat in Magdalena one evening. This chef prepares revolutionary dishes, like his ceviche and sweet corn tortellini’s.
Last fall, I enjoyed an idyllic weekend at the Ivy Hotel. This four-story boutique property has nine suites and nine guest rooms; all are custom designed spaces. A sumptuous four-poster bed is the centerpiece of each room, but bold wall colors and exotic textiles render each a distinctive vibe. Contemporary bathrooms contain a private lavatory, glass-door showers, and soaking tubs. The French limestone floors in the bathrooms are heated. All the guest rooms have gas fireplaces and built in closets stylishly concealing robes. Notable are decorative touches like bar-moires—hand painted cabinets equipped with hot and cold drinks, snacks and wine.
Some guest room windows overlook the cityscape, but are sound proofed to quell street noise. Every guest room is extremely spacious; several more than 900 square feet. The Tower Suite is a two-story hideaway boasting a sizable bedroom and bath, a large living area and private access to the street from the elevator.
The Ivy Hotel is located in Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon neighborhood, notable for its impressive architecture, including some stunning gothic churches. Baltimore’s key cultural venues are a short walk from the hotel including the Peabody Conservatory of Music, The Contemporary Museum, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Walters Art Museum and the Maryland Historical Society. Hip boutiques, international restaurants and an abundance of coffee shops add character to this safe and picturesque community. Almost any time of day, visitors can board the free Charm City Circulator shuttle bus to the Inner Harbor, or Penn Station. One iconic Mt. Vernon experience is climbing the 227-steps to the top of Baltimore’s Washington Monument—it pre-dates the one in Washington D.C.—for a panoramic view of the city.
The History and Allure of the Ivy Hotel: An interview with general manager Rob Arthur
General Manager Robert Arthur sat down with me to share how this landmark building was reimagined into a luxury boutique hotel. The hotel was recognized by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine’s Gold List as one of the “best hotels on the planet” in 2017 and 2018. It’s also under the impeccable Relaix & Chateaux umbrella.
Q: Who built the Ivy Hotel, and who were its owners?
RA: The original property at the corner of Biddle and North Calvert Streets was built by John Gilman in 1889. He was the brother of the man for which the Gilman School is named. John Gilman was a banker, and although he died right before the house was finished, his widow lived here for a few years. She sold the property to William Painter, a successful inventor and owner of Cork, Crown & Seal. He was also the inventor of the Bobcat; Painter had 100 patents in his life.
His business was important back in the day. Then he sold to Dr. Futcher, a Johns Hopkins doctor. It changed hands again, when Robert Garrett, an Olympiad whose family was linked to the B&O Railroad, bought it. During the Great Depression, Garrett deeded the building to the city of Baltimore’s parks and recreation department. This was their office from 1940’s to 1980’s.
Q: What happened during the period the city owned it?
RA: In the 1980’s, Governor William Shaffer, the former mayor of Baltimore, turned the property into The Inn at Government House. They rehabbed it into a hotel, and were able to get local furniture makers to donate their handmade furniture. It became a beautiful property—a place for dignitaries to come when they visited Baltimore. It was also a training center for Baltimore youth to get into the hospitality business.
Q: Why did philanthropists Ed and Sylvia Brown buy it?
RA: After the economic downturn of 2008, the city became concerned about the cost of the property. They weren’t making any income, and paying a lot for upkeep of the building. That’s when Mr. Eddie Brown, a Baltimore businessman who founded Brown Capital, asked to buy it. Mr. Brown said, “I want it to be used for the public.” He and Marty Azola went through a couple of designs. Martin Azola is a well-known general contractor in Baltimore and is behind some of Baltimore’s most notable preservation projects like the Rockland Grist Mill and the Bromo Seltzer Tower.
RA: Then they hired David Garrett of Garrett Hotel Consultants and Ziger Snead Architects, the same architectural firm that developed the Brown Center at the Maryland Institute for the Creative Arts (MICA). The school uses that building as the technology arts workshop where students learn web development, animation and film. So, the Ivy Hotel was built to be a 5 star hotel, the concept of everything from physical to culinary to service is designed to be a 5 star property. This is what we were going for.
Q: Are you the person that figured out the logistics and operations?
RA: I came down here in 2013 and worked at the Azola office. I was a designer, architect, consultant. My job was to figure out things like the laundry shoot—housekeepers need to have access. I need to have the bellman cart get through the lobby for high tea service. It was a good challenge, and it got me into the property early on. We had boots on the ground to look at plans every day to make sure the design concept worked.
Q: This is such an awe inspiring lobby, and every room is different. Who chose the furnishings?
RA: We had designer Josie Mescun source the furniture and antiques. She had bought all these pieces for another collector and thought we could use the pieces down here. The Ivy also brought in an award-winning chef, Mark Levy, who established Magdalena as one of the best in Baltimore and has also achieved the Forbes Five Star rating. He often incorporates local and seasonal ingredients from the MidAtlantic. The Magdalena wine cellar is on display so you can see the depth and variety of choices, as well as the wide selection of malt whiskeys, and craft beers.
Next up: an interview with Jodie Mescun, interior decorator for The Ivy Hotel.
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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.
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