History The Brown Present The Brown

The Brown

Thanks to a careful restoration, the hotel’s intricate plaster molding, detailed woodwork, stained glass, and original crystal chandeliers lend an elegance of yesteryear to contemporary comforts. The Brown is an historic Four Star, Four Diamond property conveniently located at the corner of Fourth & Broadway in downtown Louisville.

The lobby 

The hotel offers 293 elegantly appointed guest rooms and suites, over 16,000 square feet of meeting and function space, a 24-hour Fitness Center and Business Center, three restaurants and our famous Lobby Bar. The Brown's fine dining restaurant, The English Grill, has repeatedly been voted Louisville's Best Restaurant.

Fourth and Broadway, Louisville’s “magic corner,” has been home to The Brown since October 25, 1923. On that day, the hotel, creation of Louisville entrepreneur J. Graham Brown, was overflowing with a congratulating public who for years made the hotel the city’s center of activity (its popular restaurant was birthplace of the legendary “Hot Brown” sandwich, an open-face turkey sandwich with bacon, pimentos and a delicate mornay sauce). In 1923 The Brown Hotel opens, registering David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister of England, as its first guest. The opening festivities last nearly a week. 1926 Hotel Chef Fred K. Schmidt invents the famous "Hot Brown" sandwich. 1928 The Great Depression hits. Money is tight, but The Brown Hotel stays open due to the employees' willingness to work for periods without pay. 1933 WAVE Radio (NBC) opens its first studio in Louisville on the 15th floor of The Brown. The first program is aired from the Crystal Ballroom. 1937 The Great Flood hits Louisville. The Brown Hotel stays open, operating on candles and charcoal grills after the electricity fails. The water level on the first floor rises to three feet, and the bell captain catches a two-pound fish in the lobby. With announcers and engineers working in relays, WAVE Radio is the only station to continue broadcasting. The station stays on the air around the clock during the 10-day emergency, notifying rescue teams about the locations of people in need of aid. 1941 The coming of war heralds a "boom time" for The Brown and downtown Louisville. Troop trains deliver soldiers from nearby Fort Knox, and the lobby is jammed for hours with each arrival. 1950's The emergence of expressways draws people out to the suburbs, resulting in a decline in business for downtown Louisville and The Brown Hotel. 1971 Two years after the death of J. Graham Brown, The Brown Hotel closes its doors. It is sold to the Board of Education and used as an administration office building and "creative" school for almost a decade. 1980 - 82 The "Broadway Group" is formed (later to become the Broadway Project Corporation) and acquires The Brown Hotel. Plans are laid to renovate the hotel as part of a broader revitalization plan for the Broadway-Fourth Street area called the Broadway Renaissance. Renovation cost was $22 million dollars. 1983 Broadway/Brown Partnership is formed; takes title of the hotel and restoration work begins on The Brown by developers Sturgeon, Thornton, Marrett Development Company and Cranston Development Company. Landmarks Design Associates of Pittsburgh is the architect. 1990 The Camberley Hotel Company purchases The Brown Hotel. A Brief History of a Long Tradition Built by wealthy Louisville businessman J. Graham Brown as a tribute to his brother, Martin, The Brown Hotel opened in downtown Louisville at the corner of Fourth and Broadway on October 25, 1923. In 1923 Louisville was the 34th largest city in the country with a population of 235,000. Fourth Street was already an established promenade, and The Brown became the cornerstone of "The Magic Corner," playing a central role in the activities and events of downtown Louisville over the decades. Designed by Preston J. Bradshaw, The Brown opened in October of 1923, only 10 months after construction began and at the cost of four million dollars. The 16-story, concrete and steel hotel is in the Georgian Revival style, faced in brick and trimmed in stone and terra cotta. The interior design of The Brown is primarily of the English Renaissance style with Adams period detail. David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, visited the city just before The Brown opened. Asking to see the flag-bedecked building on a tour of the city, he became the first person to sign the guest register. The hotel quickly became the city's business and social center, bringing a new energy to downtown Louisville. Soon a lavish theater, a church and a large medical and professional building opened adjacent to the hotel. In 1925, J. Graham Brown built the Brown Office Building just east of the hotel, which included the recently refurbished Brown Theatre. These were memorable years. Lily Pons, while playing at the Brown Theatre, let her pet lion cub roam free in her suite. Al Jolson, also playing at the Theatre, got in a fight in the hotel's English Grill, but said everything was all right...his makeup would cover the shiner. Yet for all its glamour, its owner's faith and its employees' hard work, The Brown was not an immediate financial success. Prohibition was in effect from the time it opened until 1933, and the Great Depression of the 1930's stalled Graham Brown's businesses. In 1931, Brown defaulted on the loan that had financed the hotel, and the bank threatened to foreclose. Financing was rearranged and Brown kept the hotel, but not without painful steps, including a humble appeal to employees to work temporarily without pay. In January 1937, the Ohio River rose, invading Louisville. Nearly a thousand people from low-lying areas sought refuge in the hotel and found themselves stranded for ten days. A witness recalled. "We were rowing down Broadway and there was The Brown Hotel. The doors were open and the place was filled with water so we just rowed our boat in one door, went through the lobby and rowed out another." Spirits remained high, however. Charcoal grills in makeshift kitchens fed the multitudes and bucket brigades carried water up the 15 flights of stairs to flush toilets. During the flood, the bell captain caught a fish n the second floor lobby. Boom time for The Brown and downtown Louisville began with World War II. While waiting for word from the front, soldiers from Fort Knox and Louisville residents sought relief from the anxieties of war at The Brown. A bell captain remembered, "We were busiest during the War. Check-in at 5:00 p.m. was the worst. Two or three trains a day would come from Ft. Knox...soldiers lined up for hours waiting for a room." A bartender noted, "... Everybody had more money than they had ever seen before. Business was booming and you couldn't get bartenders. We'd hire anything that could walk and breathe." Through the year, The Brown's public rooms provided tremendous visibility and customer loyalty for the hotel. Some say more business deals were struck in The English Grill than at any office in town. Countless couples enjoyed a generation of fine entertainers in the Bluegrass Room and men and women of accomplishment were toasted in the Crystal Ballroom. In the late forties, following the trend of cities across the country, Louisville endorsed construction of an expressway system designed to bring more people downtown. Instead, the expressways, which opened in the late fifties, made the surrounding farmland more accessible and appealing to developers, and homeowners and businesses began the exodus to suburbia. In an effort to compete with the suburban motels, Brown spend $1.5 million in 1965 to modernize The Brown and a sister hotel, The Kentucky. But the rooms were small by sixties' standards, and the traveling public was not lured back by the new carpet and paint, fluorescent lighting and motel plastic. By the end of February 1971, two years after its builder had died, The Brown closed as a hotel. Later that year the Jefferson County Board of Education purchased the hotel for its Brown Education Center. By then, vacant buildings greeted people on every block of Fourth Avenue. In the early 1970s, new buildings were finally under construction and downtown's Victorian, cast-iron façade buildings of Main Street's early glory days became prime renovation prospects. Meanwhile, the inventive use of The Brown Hotel building as a school proved unworkable. By the next decade, The Brown again sat empty. During 1980, the "Broadway Group" was formed, later called the Broadway Project Corporation and acquired The Brown. A renovation was planned as part of a broader revitalization of Broadway and restoration work began in 1983. In 1990, The Camberley Hotel Company and its president, Ian Lloyd-Jones, assumed management of the hotel and restored The Brown to its original splendor. In 1993, Lloyd-Jones purchased the hotel, and it remains a cornerstone in downtown Louisville, a tribute to its heritage with a reputation for exemplary food and superior service.

Queen Marie of Romania visited in 1926 and was entertained in the Crystal Ballroom, complete with red carpet and a gold throne on a dais. Victor Mature had a brief career as an elevator operator at the hotel before earning fame in Hollywood. In fact, many celebrities actually first made a name for themselves in the Bluegrass Room at The Brown Hotel, including George Gobel, Gene Krupa, Clyde McCoy, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. Yet no matter how popular the hotel was year-round, nothing could compare to the week of the Kentucky Derby, with Derby night the most important social holiday of the year. "The hotel was more or less like box seats at Churchill Downs - the same people every year and always the best, " remembered an employee. Among the many well-known patrons of The Brown's superior accommodations have been the Duke of Windsor, Harry Truman, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Young, Joan Crawford, Eddie Cantor, Gene Autry, Eva Marie Saint, Don Ameche, Eddie Arcaro, Muhammad Ali, Dixie Carter and Bo Derek to name just a few. Muhammad Ali came in 2001, for example.

293 Rooms

The English Grill J. Graham's Thoroughbred Lounge Lobby Bar

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Our Select Member Hotel

The Brown
Country: USA
City: Louisville
Opening date: 1923, October 25

Note from the Host

General Manager

Brad Walker

Hotel Manager: Angie Carraro


335 W Broadway
Kentucky 40202 USA, Louisville

Tel: +1-502-583-1234
Fax: +1-502-561-8443

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