The Dean Hotel — This Is Providence

dean

The sweat and vision of Providence people help to define the true meaning of a luxurious hotel

On April 3, 2014, a sunny but brisk Thursday in the early evening, a large, cheerful and impeccably dressed crowd stood in front of 122 Fountain Street in Providence, an address drenched in history of a somewhat sticky nature. No longer a place to walk past quickly with your head down if you found yourself alone after dark, the hungrily anticipated Dean Hotel had come to fruition and citizens gathered excitedly like new parents leaning over a crib to find out what color eyes their baby would have. With the exception of one gentleman who comically carried on a loud cell-phone conversation for the duration of the ceremony, the crowd craned to hear the opening remarks of the hotel’s founders, despite the wind’s best efforts to whisk the words away the moment they were uttered.

Clay Rockefeller, the investor who provided the means for the project to take life, talked of his love for his city and his family and humbly thanked all who had helped transform the space. Rockefeller, beloved founder of the Steelyard and the Monohasset Mill Project, is a longstanding fixture within the Providence arts community. He has worked passionately to transform and rehabilitate neglected patches of Providence and indeed, he gives the impression of nothing so much as a giant tenderly nursing his garden, opportunity and creation blooming up in his footprints wherever he treads. Ari Heckman, the Providence native and real estate developer behind the hotel’s transformation, spoke briefly of his acclaimed work in NYC, but mainly of his Providence roots. In describing the Dean project, he said he wanted to create a hotel “by Providence, of Providence, and for Providence.”

The doors finally opened for the grand opening party, and boy, was it grand. Guests were greeted by lush floral arrangements bowing under the weight of their petals, cordial employees proffering trays laden with glasses of complimentary champagne, and magnificently attired performance artists*. A great basin exploded with velvety clouds of impossibly red roses, set upon a sleek mahogany table that languidly stretched in front of the Bolt Coffee Company counter, where baristas worked furiously to produce glass after tantalizing glass of locally roasted espresso tempered artfully with honey and sea salt. Local DJ Andy Morris provided a beating undercurrent of ambiance while, tucked away in a convergent hallway, snake handler Bwana Iguana lent his six-foot Golden Python to be draped over the shoulders of willing guests for thrilling photographs. Servers walked among the crowd offering delectable hors d’oeuvres — no small feat considering the density of the crowd. The place was packed, and guests continued to arrive in droves, perhaps lured by the Hollywood-style spotlights that lit up the sky, perhaps drawn by the sound of the Extraordinary Rendition Band hammering out marching tunes against the sidewalk. Bronze and marble shone in the newly opened Faust Hofbrauhaus and the Magdalenae cocktail room breathed a rich sensuality, both of them new offerings from local genius Michael Sears. It was an incredibly luxurious affair.

In corporate marketing, the term “luxury” is inescapable. It is a tired, used and abused word that is bandied about so carelessly that it’s a wonder it has enough strength left to be typed. Go to any corporate chain hotel website and you’ll see these words flung about in the copy like applesauce around a toddler’s high chair: Luxury. Values. Atmosphere. Decadent. State-of-the-art. Perfect getaway. Leisure. Eco-friendly. Who are they selling to? Certainly not people who are accustomed to luxury. This is a market that capitalizes on the idea of luxury, reduces it to a sketch of the lowest common denominator, mass produces it for the cheapest production cost possible, wraps it in plastic, and dangles it like a treat in front of whatever poor human needs a place to stay for her business trip, his uncle’s funeral, her high school reunion. More appropriate copy would read: “Chipping away at the charm of your honeymoon, one particleboard slab at a time!” or “Indulge in a weekend escape from your usual debt-crippled, mundane life of indentured servitude and relax in one of our uniformly carpeted cubes for just two-thirds of your paycheck!” or “The grass can’t look greener from the other side when it all looks the same on the inside!” or “Oh, weary travelers, fear not. For though you may be far from home and out of your routine, at least your crappy hotel room will be exactly the same as the last time you stayed in one of our crappy hotel rooms. It’s your home away from home.”

As consumers, we’re used to paying for lies. We know it’s all crap, but crap is the norm. You want something special? Here’s some crap wrapped in tin foil. SHINY.

The Dean Hotel is the real deal. Impossibly beautiful, incredibly thoughtful, meticulously planned, the grand opening party hosted guests from every walk of life and not one person felt out of place. Faces beamed with pride and people who had never set foot in the building walked with surety, confidence and excitement. Why all this fuss, why all this joy, why all this excitement over a little hotel? Because it’s ours. The people who came to celebrate the opening found that they were the ones being celebrated. We have received a gift. The gift is in the transformation of a broken building. It’s in the choice to infuse the hotel with the work and art of the people of this city. The pictures on the walls, the end tables in the rooms, the hand-lettered signs in the hallways and giant steel letters outside, the frames under the beds, the snacks on the end tables. All these things came from the hands, the sweat and the vision of people you have a good chance of walking past on the sidewalk every day. It is by Providence. It is of Providence. It is for Providence. Here we know that smaller is better and here we know why local matters. There have been quite a few complimentary comparisons drawn between the Dean and Brooklyn boutique hotels. Don’t be fooled, the Dean is ours. The Dean is yours. The Dean is Providence.

*Disclaimer: The author was working as one of the “magnificently attired performance artists” through Kristen Minsky’s Chifferobe Events and her perspective is drawn from viewing the event as a fixture of it.

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