Palestine Accommodates in Fine Style with Historic Redlands Hotel
When the Redlands Hotel opened for business in Palestine in 1915, the five-story, brick building made of steel and concrete was one of the finest hotels around. A speaker at the hotel’s grand opening, which drew dignitaries from across the state, predicted the Redlands would stand the test of time:
“This enduring pile of steel and stone stands today as it promises to stand a century hence. As a work of art and as a structure eminently adapted for the purpose, let it speak for itself. Long after its markers and the present generation alike shall have crumbled into dust in their graves, its solid foundation, its massive walls and its substantial frame will combine to offer that same safe and hospitable shelter to mankind that it offers now.”
Fast forward six decades later, when Jean Mollard, her late husband Norman, a Palestine native and Houston contractor, and Jean’s brother Robert Laughlin sized up the hotel as a possible renovation project. Boarded up for more than 20 years, the building resembled a parking garage, with open hallways and a leaking roof. Most of its 186 windows were beyond use. As they poked through the structure with flashlights, Jean recalls, they saw a basement full of dampness and a dark and nasty environment.
But Norman and Jean, who was in the antiques business in Houston, and Robert, an engineer with electrical experience, could see the possibilities. They purchased the old hotel, promising city officials they would replace all the windows and operate a business on the first floor.
Restoring the Hotel’s Grandeur
True to her word, in 1977, Jean opened an antique store on the first floor, refinishing furniture in the hotel’s basement and offering it for sale in the 2,000-square-foot storefront and at her store in Houston. It was the beginning of a successful antiques wholesale business called Artifacts that at one time employed as many as 42 local employees and a network of contract sales representatives nationwide.
While Jean ran the wholesale antiques business, Norman and Robert began renovating the old hotel one floor at a time. Monthly rental apartments were available in the 1980s and nightly updated suite rentals began in 2007.
“This building is more than just mortar and stone. It was the creation of something 100 years ago — a vision that has been adjusted along the way. What’s most important are the things that happened in it and the livelihoods it provided,” Jean says.
In fact, the Redlands’ historic designation on the National Register of Historic Places is not just for its architectural detail, but also for its contribution to the social fiber of the community.
“This was once a railroad office building that impacted so many livelihoods. Someone is always telling me, ‘My dad or grandfather worked here,’” Jean shares.
A Railroad Hotel
When the hotel was built in the early 1900s, Palestine was the center of a county population of nearly 30,000 and called itself the “Queen City of East Texas.” Located on the mainline of the International & Great Northern Railroad (I&GN), Palestine was a hub for salt production, timber, cotton, orchardry and truck crops.
Recognizing the need for a first-class hotel in the area, the Palestine Hotel Company was founded, with 83 local businessmen and women helping to finance the $100,000 building constructed with steel and concrete beams.
Local tradition holds that another contributing factor for the hotel’s construction was the fact that Palestine Hotel Company President Hyman Pearlstone persuaded major league baseball’s St. Louis Browns, to locate its training camp in Palestine and to use the future Redlands as its headquarters. With this lucrative arrangement, stockholders felt assured of a reliable return on their investment and construction of the hotel began in 1914.
The St. Louis Browns did stay in the Redlands during their spring training sessions in 1916 and 1917, and the hotel was a popular local social gathering place. But soon after its opening, the Redlands fell on hard times. The country was in the midst of World War I and a major flu pandemic.
“The Redlands opened as a railroad guest hotel, and suddenly, no one was traveling but soldiers,” Jean says. “There wasn’t enough water pressure to push water up to the upper floors and electricity was spotty in those days.”
A turn of events saved the hotel and town alike. Three years after its opening, the I&NG Railroad (which later became Missouri Pacific) needed a large building for general offices and shops. The hotel company leased the entire building to the railroad, and it served as its general offices for the next 37 years.
After the railroad vacated the building, the Redlands sat unoccupied for 20 years until the Mollards saw its potential and reopened the first floor during the city’s annual Texas Dogwood Trails in 1977. It’s an ongoing labor of love since.
“Once you start something like this, you can’t just do the first floor. We had to do more and more,” Jean says.
Overnight Stays and More
Today, the hotel’s 86 rooms are transformed into 20 modern-day suites with old-time charm. Each suite features a kitchen, living room area and bedroom decorated for business travelers and tourists who visit Palestine each year for events such as the Dogwood Festival in the spring, the Hot Pepper Festival in October and the Polar Express Train Ride during the holidays.
Photo by Dave Shultz
The hotel recently completed a lobby renovation, featuring a new check-in area and updated gift boutique called Redlands Boutique. Part of the original lobby, including the fireplace, is now visible, complete with exposed windows, transoms, tile floors and a seating area.
Rates for single rooms range from $99 to $175 a night, and two-bedroom suites run $200 to $275. Discounts are available for extended stays.
Besides providing office space to several local businesses, the hotel’s first floor includes the Gallery at the Redlands, featuring the works of artist David Tripp, and the Red Fire Grille, an upscale restaurant with adjacent tapas bar. LEARN MORE
The Gallery at the Redlands features the American nostalgic works of artist David Tripp. Photo by Dave Shultz
There’s a personal touch found at the Redlands that’s often lacking at larger hotel chains. Jean and her staff love to accommodate their guests with tour suggestions of sights and eateries that meet their particular interests. LEARN MORE
Jean Mollard is the owner of the Redlands Hotel and continues to make enhancements to the delight of her guests. Photo by Tracy Torma
“They can spend a whole day here in the historic district shopping, eating and viewing local history,” she says.
While many of the town’s historic buildings remain empty, Jean still sees the possibilities in downtown Palestine.
“We are second to Galveston in the number of historic properties here. Not all are decorated and fancy, and our downtown is spread out. But there is a lot to do here. You can have a great time.”
And she is particularly proud that the hotel has lived up to the prediction of hospitality that was made during its grand opening 103 years ago.
“It’s not just a building of steel and stone, but a place that continues to offer the same safe and hospitable shelter to local businesses and travelers today,” she adds.
To make reservations, visit www.redlandshistoricinn.com.