Our future lies not in growth for growth's sake. Our future abides rather in respecting the past and adhering to the values that helped the Crawfords survive--generous hospitality. Our future abides in the values that Joseph Stickney expressed when he imagined this magnificent structure--as an integral part of the landscape, as natural and appropriate as a glacier carved hill.
The Mount Washington Hotel, the oldest frame building in New Hampshire, was built in 1902. One of five original grand hotels in the state, the Mount Washington Hotel has been restored beyond its former grandeur under the ownership of MWH Preservation Limited Partnership. The partnership also owns several adjacent properties that now make up the largest ski resort in New Hampshire. The hotel is known beyond the state's borders and has been host to presidents, diplomats, and financial luminaries in its 100-year-old history.
A Mountain and a Hotel: Prior to 1991
Before MWH Preservation Limited Partnership made its purchase of the Mount Washington Hotel, the property had experienced a turbulent history. In 1881, Joseph Stickney, railroad tycoon and New Hampshire native, purchased 10,000 acres of land around Mount Washington, the highest mountain in New Hampshire. In 1902, construction of The Mount Washington Hotel was completed. From the beginning, the grand project was criticized, with many believing that it was foolhardy to build a hotel at the location. On its opening night Joseph Stickney toasted to "the damn fool who built this white elephant."
In December 1903, Joseph Stickney died, leaving the hotel to his widow Carolyn and beginning a long history of ownership changes. Carolyn remarried Prince Lucinge of France and continued her ownership of the hotel until her death. Her nephew Foster Reynolds ran the hotel for the next ten years and sold it to a Boston syndicate in 1944. That year the most historic event of the hotel's history occurred when the International Monetary Conference met in the hotel. The meeting of financiers from 44 countries organized the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which set the price of gold at $35 per ounce and selected the U.S. dollar as the standard of international exchange.
The Boston syndicate sold the hotel to Morris J. Fleisher and his wife, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1955. The Fleishers then sold the hotel to the Mount Washington Development Company in 1969. It was sold again to Bretton Woods Corporation in 1975. During the 1980s, the hotel fell into disrepair, despite being named a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and was purchased in 1987 by a new partnership. In 1989, 63 employees of the hotel lost their jobs due to the decline in bookings. The partnership, which owned the hotel, was a subsidiary of the Eliot Savings Bank of Boston, and in 1991, the bank failed as part of the collapse of the savings and loan system. That left the hotel under the control of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), which put the hotel up for auction in June 1991.
A New Era of New Hampshire Leadership: 1991-95
When the auction for the Mount Washington Hotel began, the auctioneer, Wayne Mock, opened the bidding with this statement, according to the New York Times, "This is not a bell tolling for the grande dame of the White Mountains," he said. Five bidders and news media attended the auction for the property offered by the FDIC. The agency had already spent $1.2 million on the hotel and had refused an earlier offer to purchase the hotel by MWH.
A group of New Hampshire investors formed a partnership in 1991, the Mount Washington Hotel (MWH) Preservation Limited Partnership, to bid on the historic hotel. The partnership included Joel Bedor, CPA and president of the partnership; Cathy Bedor, Joel's wife and a marketing professional; Wayne Presby, an attorney and chairman of the board; John and Jere Eames, brothers whose family had been in the hospitality business for many generations, and Robert Clement, the resort's general manager. The Bedors and Presbys had purchased the Mount Washington Cog Railway in 1983 under a different partnership, the Mount Washington Railway Company. The bidding began in quarter million increments and according to an article in American Profile, Joel Bedor felt as if his small group was not going to be able to compete. After the bidding halted at $3 million, partner Wayne Presby bid $3.15 million, and the sale was made. The hotel was once again owned by New Hampshire residents marking the first time since Joseph Stickney had died that the hotel was locally owned. Bedor recalled that his initial reaction was "Oh my God, what have I done?"
That question was a good one for Bedor, president of MWH, to have asked. The new owners now had a large task awaiting them. The hotel needed more than $10 million in renovations, 225 guest rooms had been gutted but not repaired, paint was peeling, and the building did not meet fire codes. The partnership was determined to renovate the hotel and make it profitable, even in the first year. Their careful renovations were planned to bring modern conveniences into the hotel while still preserving the historical elements.
In a speech to The Newcomen Society in 2003, Joel Bedor described the goals and mood of the investors after the purchase of the hotel. "We vowed that the days of real estate gimmicks were over. We agreed to preserve and restore the grand resort, confident that the end of the Cold War would result in a new demand for classic vacation experiences. We had seen that the Hotel was no opportunity for a quick profit--its future depended on re-investing every penny of operating revenue in refurbishing the magnificent structure--and quietly preparing it for winter operations," he said.
After focusing their efforts on restoring the hotel, the owners' next goal was to bring back under their ownership other segments that had been part of the hotel properties but had been sold piecemeal decades earlier. The original purchase in 1991 included the main hotel and the 83 acres surrounding it; The Breton Arms, a 34-room country inn; The Lodge of Bretton Woods, a 50-room hotel; and Fabyans, a restaurant converted from a train depot. In 1993, the partnership bought back the 27-hole PGA Championship golf course adjacent to the property.
In 1994, the hotel was host to presidents once more when former President George Bush was the keynote speaker at Citicorp's international banking convention. After years of disrepair, the hotel was again considered for conferences of national and international importance.
Expansion and Improvements: 1996-2000
MWH Preservation Limited Partnership purchased 950 acres of land that bordered the hotel in 1996. In 1997, the partnership acquired the Bretton Woods downhill and cross-country ski areas, again uniting the 730-acre ski area with the hotel's 1,200 acres of land. Bretton Woods was purchased for an undisclosed amount. "It has been a long-term dream of our company to have a fully integrated resort at Bretton Woods," said Wayne Presby in an interview with the Union Leader after the purchase. "Today's acquisition is the culmination of that dream."
The Mount Washington Hotel was open for its first winter season in 1999. Bretton Woods ski area was renovated in time for the 1999-2000 winter season. The expansion included 24 new trails; The Zephyr, a high-speed quad lift; and a new base camp lodge that included a Family Learning Center. In 1999, the hotel was named the "Hospitality Business of the Decade" by Business NH Magazine. The 1999 expansions to the ski area made it the largest ski area in New Hampshire and the third largest in the Northeast. The partnership spent over $2 million getting the hotel ready for its first winter season. Condos were also built on the property to add more options for overnight guests.
The hotel had to undergo several major improvements to be open during the winter, including the replacement of 800 windows with double-pane insulated glass, the addition of thermostats and a backup generator, as well as winterization of the hotel's water-treatment system. The hotel's general manager, Anthony Ferrelli, and his wife lived in the hotel during the winter of 1998-99 to ensure livability. Wayne Presby, chairman of the board, stated in a profile by the Mount Washington Observatory's quarterly bulletin, Windswept, that he did not expect the hotel to be 100 percent occupied in its first winter but reservations were strong. Chairman Wayne Presby, in an article in Travel Weekly, said that the improvements were part of a $25 million, five-year project that would include additions to the resort and hotel.
A Century of Hospitality: 2000 and Beyond
On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the United States, destroying the World Trade Center towers in New York City and damaging the Pentagon. The attacks were carried out with commercial airplanes, and afterwards, the tourism industry was badly affected when consumers canceled hotel rooms, airline reservations, and cruises. The Mount Washington Hotel was also affected.
After opening for its first winter season in 1999-2000, the hotel and resort area experienced a great amount of success, but for the few years after September 11, 2001, the hotel's reservations were down. Many more people waited until the last minute to make vacation plans, said Bonnie MacPherson, the hotel's director of Public Relations in the Union Leader on July 28, 2003. For example, the Fourth of July was usually fully booked well in advance of the holiday. In 2003, the hotel sold out its rooms for the weekend but did so much later than usual.
In 2002, the hotel celebrated its centennial on July 28 with a series of events, including a fireworks display. The hotel was one of two finalists considered to host the 2004 G8 summit with leaders from the world's major industrial nations. The G8 countries (the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, and Russia) were planning their annual meeting to discuss economic and political issues facing the world. However, Sea Island, Georgia, was named as the location in July 2003.
In October 2003, MWH announced that Bode Miller, the world's top-ranked skier, would be working to promote skiing and other sports at the Mount Washington Hotel and Bretton Woods. The skier agreed to a seven- to ten-year commitment to the resort area and hotel. Wayne Presby, MWH chairman, said that Miller approached the hotel with the idea of working with them. Miller's title was director of skiing, and, though he would be skiing competitively in Europe during most of the winter, he would reside at Bretton Woods.
"I'm in for the whole program," said Miller in an interview with the Union Leader on October 4, 2003. "They have my three favorite sports here: skiing, golf and tennis. I am looking at being able to exploit all three and activate more interest." Miller also said that while he received celebrity treatment in Europe, he felt most at home in the eastern United States citing it as a healthier environment.
Besides the addition of Bode Miller to the staff, 12 new trails were added to Bretton Woods and the second phase of an expansion to the base lodge. The lodge area expansion included the addition of a general store, Slopeside Restaurant & Pub, and a new TreeTop Sports alpine shop. The Mount Rosebrook Summit Express high-speed detachable quad was also added, opening new trails on Mount Rosebrook.
Over the past decade, MWH restored and expanded the hotel and resort area. Now as other investors decided to restore other grand hotels, the partnership's success served as a positive case study. In a 2002 interview with Mike Recht of The Associated Press, Joel Bedor said, "I think people, investors, have seen what we have been able to do, and they're trying to replicate it. You can leave your car and never have to drive anywhere; everything is here. You can relax and forget about the rest of the world."
In his speech to The Newcomen Society in 2003, MWH President Joel Bedor said that the progress for MWH Preservation Limited Partnership was still moving forward. Plans included a new spa, golf course renovation, and ski area expansion. The partnership was committed to continuing its improvements to this century-old hotel and surrounding resort area. "To express the spirit of this enterprise on its 100th anniversary," said Bedor. "There is no more appropriate word that I can summon than 'optimism.'"
Principal Competitors: Berkshire East Ski Resort; Mountain Sports Inn.