A Grand Dame restored to her former glory
As a fan of historic buildings with stories to tell, I decided to make a visit to The Blanche, a historic landmark in downtown Lake City, Florida that’s been around for more than 100 years, and recently reopened after a years-long renovation.
The lobby of the hotel is absolutely breathtaking. The glass-enclosed entrance creates a light-filled space that is nothing short of stunning. Once inside, you are literally walking on history. The octagonal white and forest green and maroon trimmed tile floor is so pristine, I assumed it was newly installed reproduction tiles, but I later learned it was the original 1902 tiles!
Your eye is immediately drawn to the majestic grand staircase with its polished hardwood steps framed by white pillars and crown molding, accented with dark wood banisters. As the grand staircase reaches the second floor, individual standard-sized staircases curve off to the left and right. Polished to its original splendor, the hardwood gleams like it’s brand new. A tremendous crystal chandelier hanging from the 14-foot ceiling adds another layer of elegance to the space.
Four cozy seating areas with comfy sofas and chairs with soft carpet underfoot and unique decor break up the expansive lobby into intimate spaces where visitors can sit and chat or wait for a friend. Colorful pastoral artwork graces the walls, giving the room a peaceful feel amongst the splendor.
The second floor offers the perfect event space. The polished hardwood floor reflects the natural light from the arched French doors. The doors open to the restored balcony overlooking Marion Street. During the years The Blanche was closed, the second and third floor balconies were demolished. Today they stand proudly over The Blanche entrance. Aside from adding to the charm, they come in handy when you are unloading luggage out front on a rainy day.
What you don’t see is equally important. There is no registration desk. That’s because The Blanche is much more than a 14-room boutique hotel. It also houses nearly two dozen on and two-bedroom apartments, along with retail, office, co-working and event space.
Hotel registration is done via Airbnb or direct booking through www.theblanche.com or by calling 386-628-1178. Each charming, modern unit is slightly different. The color scheme is in soothing muted blues and grays with an art deco style that speaks to the hotel’s historic past. My suite had everything I needed– a small fridge, lots of counter space, a coffee maker and sink, and a full bath. The comfy sofa could be rearranged to suit, and oh, that bed. It was so comfortable, I was asleep almost as fast as my head hit the fluffy pillow. Families traveling with children can opt for a room with adorable bunk beds, guaranteed to make the kids feel at home. The parents’ bedroom is conveniently located at the other end of the suite, offering a bit of privacy. Windows abound throughout. Every room has an abundance of natural light, thanks to those large windows. The units are the perfect blend of modern convenience and historic charm.
If you fall in love with The Blanche and want to make it your home, you might be lucky to find an opening in one of its 22 apartments. The six two-bedroom units and 16 one-bedroom units were all rented when I visited shortly after the grand opening. With luxurious finishes, state-of-the-art kitchens with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, a washer and dryer in each unit, and located in the heart of Downtown Lake City, it was easy to do.
Living in this modernized historic downtown gem, you are steps from unique restaurants like Marion Street Bistro and Halpatter Brewing and Beer Garden– each housed in lovingly renovated historic buildings themselves– and independently-owned local shops and galleries like Blue Goose Art Studio. You can stroll around the town plaza and discover the town’s history, or attend an event at Darby Pavilion at Wilson Park just a few blocks away, or stroll along the waterfront at Lake DeSoto. You also have easy access to explore the region’s natural gems, like the springs, rivers, forests, state parks and preserves, and historic sites.
You can also make The Blanche your “work” home, running your business from one of the 18 private office suites, thoughtfully located away from the hotel rooms and apartments. Office tenants also have use of three spacious conference rooms that are light and airy, thanks to sliding glass doors and those many windows. A full kitchen, print/copy/fax center, and your own business mailing address, along with all utilities, are all included. If you are just in need of a temporary workspace, there is that option as well. With WiFi in all common areas and on-site event spaces for celebrations and networking gatherings, you will stay connected both virtually and in person.
The ground-floor street-level exterior is devoted to nine retail spaces that will soon be bustling with restaurants, boutiques and galleries. The units have large storefront windows and face Marion Ave., which sees plenty of vehicle traffic. Parking is easy with meters, along with some free parking. Shop spaces range from 1,000 to 3,300 square feet. The side spaces along Veterans Street–between Marion Ave. and Columbia Ave.–offer the perfect location for restaurants that want to offer outdoor seating, or shops wanting to feature outdoor displays as it opens onto a pedestrian plaza closed to vehicle traffic. The retail spaces are more intimate and range from 480 to 1,000 square feet.
The Blanche has a long and fascinating history. It was built in 1902 by Frank Pierce Milburn, considered the most popular southern architect of his time. Milburn was famous for his eclectic style. In his design for The Blanche, he mixed classic with modern and created an elegant hotel, known for its luxury and as a hub of social activity. It immediately became the glamourous, hip spot to stay in Florida, frequented by the wealthy and famous. Al Capone, Johnny Cash, and Jackie Gleason were among the repeat guests of the hotel. Will Brown, the original owner, named the hotel after his four-year-old daughter, Blanche. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 18, 1990. Today, $19 million and a lot of love and perseverance have returned The Blanche to the crown jewel of a vibrant downtown Lake City, beginning a new chapter in history for both the hotel and downtown Lake City that is expected to continue for another 100 years– and then some.
Plan your visit to The Blanche and come explore Columbia County, Florida.