The idea for a grand hotel, according to old newspaper accounts, was conceived by a group of Utica businessmen who went to Washington in 1908 to attend the Taft/Sherman inauguration. Thomas Johnson and his brother Delos, who would later manage the hotel, were along on that trip.
Two years later, Johnson was chairman of a trolley trip that took 21 prominent Uticans on a 2,000-mile promotional journey through six states. The hotel idea came up again. Frank Dudley was hired to promote the project. The hotel was built for $610,000 and the Johnson Hotel Co. had the lease.
Located at the corner of Lafayette and Seneca Streets, the hotel opened on March 11, 1912. Designed by Architects Esenwein & Johnson, the hotel was originally a 10-story building of fireproof construction with 200 rooms, 170 baths and 24 showers.
A report in the Utica Saturday Globe two days before the hotel opened said: "Its equal does not exist elsewhere in this portion of the State and in some features it surpasses the best in many States. It has been built by Utica contractors and as far as possible Utica material has been used in its construction."
Building materials included the best- mahogany, marble, porcelain and walnut. The lobby featured a ceramic floor and was flanked by impressive marble pillars. Wainscoating, over 5 feet high, covered the walls, and the 21-foot ceiling with ornamental work prompted the Globe to describe it "more like a reception hall than a lobby..."
A writing and reading room was off the lobby; adjoining that, an 18-foot-square alcove that sold cigars and periodicals. Hotel offices were adjacent. At the Seneca Street entrance, a promenade decorated in Italian Renaissance led to a women's breakfast room. Opposite that was the gentlemen's grill room. Decor was elegant, featuring silk brocade, tapestries and massive columns connected by elliptical arches.
The grand staircase led to a mezzanine gallery, which opened into a large reception room. For those quieter times, private dining rooms were available. And there was the ballroom. It was a popular spot for formal dances. In the basement: a barber shop - finished in white marble - a billiard room, kitchen, pantries and locker rooms.
A significant number of visitors to Utica arrived by train, and they could get from Union Station (opened in 1914) to the hotel by trolley, taxi, or a special bus provided by the hotel. The top four floors were added in 1926, which increased the total number of rooms in the hotel to 250. The vertical addition is clearly demarcated because the original cornice was left in place. In its heyday, it was once referred to as "the finest hotel between New York City and Chicago." The bar was known as The Lamplighter Room.
The year that it opened, President William Howard Taft stayed at the Hotel while attending the funeral of Utica native and Vice President James Schoolcraft Sherman. In the 1920's, Franklin Delano Roosevelt campaigned from the hotel.
In 1928, Amelia Earhart and 348 guests attend a luncheon in her honor in the ballroom. Among the many famous guests to stay at Hotel Utica over the years were Hopalong Cassidy, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, former Governor and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Jackie Robinson, Johnny Cash, and Bobby Darrin. Judy Garland once sang from the Hotel's mezzanine. Players from major league baseball teams would often stay in the hotel on their way to or from the annual Cooperstown Hall of Fame Game. Mickey Mantle signed many autographs in the lobby. Lionel Hampton and his orchestra also played there.
During the war years, the Hotel hosted some of the biggest names in show business as they came to entertain the troops at Rhodes Hospital. Among the notables were Kate Smith, Dinah Shore, Ida Lupino, Eddie Cantor, Victor Mature, Jimmy Durante, The Andrew Sisters, Sophie Tucker, Rita Hayworth, and Veronica Lake, to name a few.
Business slowly declined until the Hotel closed, ceasing operation on November 12, 1972. Several years later it became the Hunter House and then Loretto Adult Residence, the latter closing in 1995.
Local businessmen Joseph R. Carucci and Charles N. Gaetano saved Hotel Utica just in time. After several years of work and $13 million in restoration, Hotel Utica reopened April 4, The hotel was one of twenty named to the National Trust Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. There are only a total of 180 hotels and resorts in the nation that have received this prestigious designation.