A former newspaper building finds new life as a boutique hotel

The 110-room, newspaper-themed Press Hotel opened in May in downtown Portland, Maine.
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Breaking news has given way to making beds at the Press Hotel.

Back in the late 1980s, I was a journalism student looking to gain experience. I turned to my native state’s largest newspaper, the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, in the hope of obtaining a summer internship.

I must have made quite an impression. After all, I received not one but two rejection letters. The Press Herald could not have been any clearer that I was not in its summer plans, short of publishing a special edition with this headline in 72-point type: GOULET WON’T WORK HERE.

Three decades later, the Press Herald doesn’t work there, either. “There” is 119 Exchange St., which the newspaper called home for 87 years until vacating it in 2010 for smaller space a couple blocks away.

In its place is The Press Hotel, a 110-room boutique property that opened in May. Developer Jim Brady, according to a story in the Press Herald, bought the seven-story building for $4 million and spent $14 million for the renovations; state and federal tax credits offset some of his investment.

During my seven-plus years as a reporter at the York Daily Record, our newsroom was in two locations that it subsequently left. That those locations once produced a daily newspaper will be largely lost to history.

But the Press Hotel is a different story, fully embracing its newspaper past: A scale once used to weigh rolls of newsprint has found new purpose in the fitness center. The former city room is home to the Inkwell Bar.

From the Boston Globe’s story about the hotel:

“Each guest room has design elements inspired by a 1920s writer’s office, such as vintage-styled editor’s chairs and typewriter key-shaped coasters. Author quotes pop up randomly, inside closets and in-room safes, in meeting rooms, and in the lobby bar.”

Brady told the Press Herald:

“Oftentimes when you’re building a new building, there’s no story behind it, so you really have to come up with something out of thin air,” he said. “In this case we felt that we had a really unique history, and so then it was (about) figuring out how to tell the story of that history.”

The journalist in me had to see for himself. While vacationing in Maine in July, I pulled my car beside the hotel and explained to the valet that I just wanted to snap some photos. Here’s some of what I saw:

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This exterior plaque notes the building’s history, most of which was spent under the ownership of Guy Gannett Communications. The Press Herald newspaper has undergone multiple ownership changes in recent decades, including a period when it was led by Maine native Richard L. Connor, who also was publisher of the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

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Hotel stationery in an antique typewriter in the hotel’s lobby.

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Students from the Maine School of Art created this lobby display of old typewriters.

A hallway wall bears actual headlines from newspapers of yore; typewriter letter keys appear to be spilled on the carpet.

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The Composing Room is the hotel’s largest event space and includes transom windows.

The one incongruency of the Press Hotel is that it focuses on journalism as it was practiced in the first half of the 20th century, with its clanky typewriter keys and male-dominated, smoke-filled newsrooms.

That era stands in sharp contrast with the notion of a good night’s sleep.

By comparison, today’s newsrooms are much more conducive to somnolence, from the quiet tapping of fingers on computer keyboards, to the muted rings of smart phones, to the more respectful interaction of editorial staffs.

Modern newsrooms are made quieter, too, by the kind of staff reductions that rendered the former Press Herald building larger than the newspaper needed.

One hopes that it’s the right size for a successful boutique hotel dedicated to the daily journalism once practiced there.

 

 

 

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