The Seelbach Hilton Louisville

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Discover the Seelbach Hilton Louisville, which has long been inspiration for historical icons, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, who used the hotel as inspiration for his brillant 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby.

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The Seelbach Hilton Louisville, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2015, dates back to 1905.

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Welcome to The Seelbach Hilton Louisville

Meet Larry Johnson, the resident historian of The Seelbach Hilton Louisville. For more videos about The Seelbach Hilton Louisville’s history, please see the hotel’s media gallery further along its profile!

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Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Seelbach Hilton Louisville has been a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2015. Founded during the early 1900s, this outstanding historic hotel has stood as one of Kentucky’s most cherished historical landmarks for more than a century. Interestingly, The Seelbach Hilton Louisville was actually the manifestation of the “American Dream” for immigrant brothers Louis and Otto Seelbach. Natives of Bavarian, the brothers had traveled to the city to learn the hotel business in America. After several decades of running restaurants and clubs, the brothers began construction of a new hotel at the corner of 4th and Walnut Street in 1903. Two years later, their fabulous “Seelbach Hotel” celebrated its grand opening, drawing 25,000 visitors to their five-hour public event. Designed by W.J. Dodd and F.M. Andrews, the Seelbach boasted a lavish, turn-of-the century Beaux-Arts architectural style that embodied the “Old World” opulence of Parisian hotels. Equally grand, the hotel interiors featured a lobby furnished with marble from Italy, Switzerland, and the United States, along with mahogany and bronze in a classic Renaissance style. The architects subsequently mounted a vaulted dome of 800 glass panes atop the space. Conrad Arthur Thomas—the most famous painter of Native American culture in the world—decorated the lobby with huge mural paintings of pioneer scenes from Kentucky’s history.

Louis Seelbach died in 1925, while Otto passed away eight years later. The Seelbach Hotel Company disbanded shortly thereafter, with their descendants putting the building up for sale. Subsequent owners remodeled the hotel and the business continued to turn a profit. But in 1968, a severe loss in revenue forced The Seelbach to close. Then, a decade later, new owners H.G. Whittenberg, Jr. and Roger Davis began renovations with financial backing from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Costing more than $28 million to complete, the revitalized Seelbach Hotel opened to great renown in April of 1982. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company gained control over the hotel two years later, buying out both Whittenberg and Davis. A subsidiary of Radisson Hotels called the “National Hotels Corporation” managed The Seelbach until Medallion Hotels, Inc., purchased the building in 1990. It quickly made a series of fantastic updates to the historic hotel, including the installation of an 18,500 square foot conference center. Meristar Hotels and Resorts bought The Seelbach in 1998, and began its own, $7 million restoration project. When the construction concluded several months later, Meristar Hotels and Resorts agreed to allow Hilton Hotels to supervise the business on its behalf. As such, the hotel formally became known as “The Seelbach Hilton Louisville.” In 2007, Investcorp International purchased and spent a total of $14 million remodeling it two years later.

Its reputation for exceptional service and luxury amenities caused many visitors to stay over the years. Names of celebrities and dignitaries fill the guest registry to this very day. Presidents’ William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton were all guests at one point or another. The Seelbach Hotel was also considered the most glamorous spot for cards and leisure. Situated in the center of bourbon and whiskey country, the hotel attracted infamous underworld kingpins and gangsters during Prohibition. Notorious figures included Lucky Luciano, "Beer Baron of the Bronx" Dutch Schultz, and the most legendary gangster at the time, Al Capone. A frequent guest of The Seelbach, Capone often dined in The Oakroom, where he would play cards in a small alcove within the venue. The gangster's favorite room has two hidden doors behind special panels that led directly to a few secret passageways. It even still displays the large mirror Capone sent from Chicago so that he could look behind himself. Cincinnati mobster and "King of the Bootleggers" George Remus also spent time at The Seelbach where he became friends with writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald himself typically visited the hotel while training for the U.S. Army at nearby Camp Taylor. F. Scott Fitzgerald even immortalized both Remus and the building in his novel, The Great Gatsby. In fact, Remus served as the inspiration for the novel's title character “Jay Gatsby.” Fitzgerald used The Seelbach and its Grand Ballroom as the inspiration for his weddings scene between the two characters, Tom and Daisy Buchanan.

  • About the Location +

    The Seelbach Hilton Louisville resides just moments away from the West Main Street Historic District, one of the most celebrated neighborhoods in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. While the area is now known for its fantastic array of cultural attractions, it first started out as the site for a rudimentary wilderness citadel back during the late 18th century. In 1778, a group of settlers led by Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark arrived in the vicinity, dispatched to attack a British outpost several miles away. Establishing a settlement on nearby Corn Island, the pioneers remained in the area for months thereafter while Clark pushed forward toward his objective. The settlers eventually created a wooden stockade called “Fort Nelson” some four years later, with Richard Chenworth presiding over the small community that emerged around it. Then, in 1784, the Virginia General Assembly (Kentucky was still a part of Virginia) formally approved an official town charter recognizing the village as the community of “Louisville.” The locals had selected the name in honor of King Louis XVI, who had just helped the newly created United States defeat Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. Louisville quickly became a point of embarkation for additional generations of frontiersmen eager to head west, with the most notable being Meriweather Lewis and William Clark of the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition. But Louisville’s proximity along the banks of the Ohio River also made it a significant trade center. Hundreds of merchants opened their owns storefronts and warehouses around old Fort Nelson, which peddled products like whiskey and tobacco. Soon enough, Louisville was one of the most visited ports along the entire Ohio River, attracting all kinds of businesspeople from both the North and South. (Railroads also enhanced Louisville’s economic standing, starting with the arrival of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in the mid-1850s.)

    Louisville’s prominence as a commercial hub made it extremely important to the Union war effort during the American Civil War. Even though Kentucky as a whole was a slave state, it officially remained loyal to the nation due to its economic ties with the northern states of the Old Northwest. Fortunately, the city escaped suffering any damage amid the conflict, although several nearby communities—including Perryville and Corydon—experienced heavy fighting at one point or another. (The Battle of Perryville in 1862 was one of the war’s most strategically significant fights, as it prevented a large Confederate army from occupying the commonwealth and threatening the Midwest.) Louisville once again proceeded to grow rapidly as a regional economic powerhouse as soon as the hostilities ended, with a spate of new commercial edifices debuting downtown. Main Street in particular became a major site for the expanded construction work that characterized Louisville’s growth at the century’s end. The designs of the buildings subsequently were far more intricate, showcasing the beauty of Romanesque and Mediterranean-inspired architecture. Most of the structures even possessed their own unique detailing, including a rare array of cast iron facades. The area remained the heart of Louisville’s vibrant economy throughout much of the 20th century, until newer industries overtook shipping in importance. Today, most of the historic warehouses and storefronts have been thoroughly renovated, reopening as boutique shops, restaurants, and art galleries. In fact, the West Main Street Historic District is also known locally as “Museum Row,” due to the high number of museums that reside in the neighborhood. Among those cultural institutions active now are the Muhammad Ali Center, the Louisville Slugger Museum, the Frazier History Museum, and the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft. Additional attractions are nearby, too, with the most notable being the legendary Churchill Downs racetrack.


  • About the Architecture +

    Designed by W.J. Dodd and F.M. Andrews, the Seelbach boasted a lavish, turn-of-the century Beaux-Arts Baroque architectural style, embodying the “Old World” opulence of Viennese and Parisian hotels. Equally grand, the hotel interiors featured a lobby furnished with marble from Italy, Switzerland, and the United States, along with mahogany and bronze in a classic Renaissance style. The architects subsequently mounted a vaulted dome of 800 glass panes atop the space. Arthur Thomas, the most famous Indian painter in the world, decorated the lobby with huge mural paintings of pioneer scenes from Kentucky’s history. Dodd and Andrews specifically relied upon Beaux-Arts-inspired architecture as the main influence behind their work. Widely popular around the dawn of the 20th century, this beautiful architectural form originally began at an art school in Paris known as the École des Beaux-Arts during the 1830s. There was much resistance to the Neoclassism of the day among French artists, who yearned for the intellectual freedom to pursue less rigid design aesthetics. Four instructors in particular were responsible for establishing the movement: Joseph-Louis Duc, Félix Duban, Henri Labrouste, and Léon Vaudoyer. The training that these instructors created involved fusing architectural elements from several earlier styles, including Imperial Roman, Italian Renaissance, ad Baroque. As such, a typical building created with Beaux-Arts-inspired designs would feature a rusticated first story, followed by several more simplistic ones. A flat roof would then top the structure. Symmetry became the defining character, with every building’s layout featuring such elements like balustrades, pilasters, and cartouches. Sculptures and other carvings were commonplace throughout the design, too. Beaux-Arts only found a receptive audience in France and the United States though, as most other Western architects at the time gravitated toward British design principles.   


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Elvis Presley, singer, musician and actor, affectionately known as the “King of Rock.” 

    Julia Child, cooking teacher and television personality remembered for her show, The French Chef.

    Lucky Luciano, founder of the Genovese crime family, as well as The Commission.

    Al Capone, gangster infamously remembered as the head of the Chicago Outfit during Prohibition.

    Dutch Schultz, gangster and bootlegger remembered as the "Beer Baron of the Bronx."

    F. Scott Fitzgerald, author remembered today for writing The Great Gatsby.

    William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States (1909 – 1913) and 10th Chief Justice of the United States (1921 – 1930)

    Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States (1913 – 1921)

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States (1933 – 1945)

    Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States (1945 – 1953) 

    John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States (1961 – 1963)

    Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President of the United States (1963 – 1969)

    Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States (1977 – 1981)

    Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States (1933 – 2001)

    George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States (2001 – 2009)


  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    The Hustler (1961)

    The Insider (1999)

    The Great Gatsby (2013)


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