The Government Center building turns 100

While we have all been busy navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, an important anniversary almost went by unnoticed. The building that is the current home of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government turned 100 years old last month. However, our building didn’t start out as the municipal city hall. It began its long history as the former Lafayette Hotel.

When the Lafayette Hotel formally opened on Thursday, Dec. 2, 1920, it was the second-largest hotel in Lexington, overtopped only by the nearby Phoenix Hotel. While second in size, the Lafayette had the finest, most contemporary design, and was the only fireproof hotel in Lexington for the period.

The grandiose hotel was to employ about 50 people. One of those 50 was Leonard (L.B.) Shouse, the president of the Lafayette Hotel Company. Charles McGrath, formerly of the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, was the managing director. 

Quoted from The Lexington Herald special edition article, Nov. 28, 1920, Shouse remarked, “I have long dreamed that Lexington would someday have just such a wonderful, up-to-date hotel as this.” Shouse went on to proclaim that the hotel was one of the best-equipped hostelries, not only in the South, but the entire country as well. A labor of love, the hotel was Shouse’s pride and joy.

While we may view the building through the lens of our modern perspective, at the time of its debut, the Lafayette was the height of extravagance. No expense was spared to make this hotel the most elegant and modern place anywhere around! The $2 million hotel included the finest furniture, lighting, décor, floors, plumbing and other amenities found in hotels at the time. 

Boasting 300 rooms, the Nov. 28, 1920, Lexington Herald article detailed, “… each with a private bath and all the comforts of modern hotel plumbing.” Even the cement, which was supplied by Speed Portland Cement, and other building materials used were the most advanced for the era. In one advertisement the contractor, Mason & Hunger Contracting Co., stated that “the Lafayette Hotel stands firm as the Rock of Ages.” Another such declaration stated, “Brixment for mortar – stronger than the brick itself, used.”

The Lexington Herald published a special section in the Nov. 28, 1920 edition to commemorate the Lafayette Hotel’s formal grand opening. Companies that had any affiliation with the Lafayette building proudly placed their quarter-sized advertisements in the edition. The newspaper also had the schedule of events for opening day on Dec. 2, 1920. The grand opening was from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Special provisions were made for the men from 10 a.m. until noon, and for the ladies from 3 – 5 p.m. One can only imagine how proud L.B. Shouse was on that day.

And what is a grand opening without an elaborate evening dinner-dance to complete the day. The event was scheduled for 7 p.m. and was priced at $5 per plate. Held in the ballroom, which was claimed to be the “finest in the South,” the newspaper mentioned “… a programme of music, flowers, and entertainment, in keeping with this notable event, will be presented during the dinner and dance.” Truly partying like it's 1920! 

As Lexington and the world changed, the Lafayette Hotel stood firm as the “Rock of Ages” for 43 years. Throughout those years, it saw many guests and diners pass through its doors. Keeneland visitors found respite in its stately rooms. Meetings and functions were held in its elegant ballroom. However, in 1963, the hotel closed its doors to guests. But, in the coming years, the building would serve an important new purpose. In 1982, it was purchased by the LFUCG. With some renovation in 1984, the building became the headquarters of our local city government. 

Today, the building is undergoing some renovations and repairs. However, one can still see the elegant and beautiful décor of her Lafayette Hotel days. Happy 100th anniversary to this grand old building!