Skift Take

Historical preservation in hotel design isn't new, but it remains relatively rare for hotels to honor the rich histories of their Black neighborhoods. The industry need more leaders like Larry Crosby, general manager of The Foundry Hotel, part of Hilton's Curio Collection.

Curating a great guest experience comes easily for Larry Crosby. The general manager of The Foundry Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, spent many years as a Les Clefs d’Or-recognized concierge, after all.

But rather than focus The Foundry’s guest experience solely on Asheville’s thriving food scene or the hiking trails near the Blue Ridge Mountains, Crosby has instead instilled a sense of place and history first. 

“The Block neighborhood where the hotel is located has a fascinating history, where emancipated slaves built it into a thriving business district,” Crosby said. “But urban renewal in the ‘70s destroyed it, and that rich history was almost lost — unless you knew who to talk to in the neighborhood.”

Preserving and promoting that storied past has been part of Crosby’s mission since helping open The Foundry Hotel in 2018. The 87-room boutique property was originally constructed as a steel forge plant for the Biltmore Estate. It’s now part of Hilton’s Curio Collection and managed by Raines.

A standard king room at The Foundry Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina. Source: The Foundry Hotel, managed by Raines.

Today at check-in, guests are encouraged to pause and admire the hotel’s exposed beams, original signs, and preserved industrial artifacts as part of what Crosby calls “orientation.”

“We’ve got a beautiful, wonderful adaptive reuse project right in the middle of The Block,” Crosby said. “We really want to tell the story of the neighborhood when you check in, give a sense of authenticity and tell the rich history of the neighborhood – not just tell the story of the hotel itself.”

Part of that mission has been forging community relationships to provide immersive experiences, especially those surrounding The Block’s rich Black history.

To round out the concierge staff’s work, Crosby has partnered with DeWayne Barton, founder and CEO of grassroots tour company Hood Huggers International. Barton’s private neighborhood excursions include Triangle Park and its murals representing Black Asheville.

Another stop is YMI Cultural Center, commissioned as the Young Men’s Institute in the late 1800s by George Vanderbilt for the Black workers constructing the Biltmore Estate. YMI was designed and built by James Vester Miller, Asheville’s preeminent Black builder in the late 1800s.

Today, YMI houses Noir Collective AVL, a boutique and gallery co-founded by alexandria monque ravenel and her team. Crosby and The Foundry design team partnered with ravenel to commission pieces by local artists for common areas, guest rooms, and the hotel’s restaurant, Benne on Eagle.

At the hotel restaurant, the menu pays homage to favorites of the neighborhood’s original residents, such as fried catfish and collard greens, and fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese. But one of the most memorable parts of the dining experience, says Crosby, is the mural from Asheville artist Joseph Pearson, who used historic photographs to depict the neighborhood’s heyday before urban renewal. For the restaurant, Pearson also created portraits of the “legends of the Block” — women who were all chefs and business owners in the 1960s and 1970s.

Lobby of The Foundry Hotel. Source: The Foundry Hotel, managed by Raines.

The Foundry is taking local representation to the next level by hosting an entire African-American art exhibit for Black History Month. 

Seeing representation when it comes to people in leadership positions like himself, or as part of The Foundry’s concept, is important for Asheville and its future, Crosby said.

“Asheville is a very cool and cultural mountain city but it lacks a lot of diversity, surprisingly,” he said. “I’m fortunate to be a GM of a hotel that has a rich history and [I’m] not what you see everyday on a leadership level here. I really embrace the community and connecting and talking with the younger demographic of talent coming into the workforce about this.”

Crosby said that in 2000, the Black population of Asheville was much larger than it is today, having dwindled from 17.6 percent then to about 11 percent now – even more notable since the city’s overall population grew. 

“You have to inspire a desire to stay here,” Crosby said. “Charlotte, Atlanta, D.C., Baltimore, these are all places you can see more people that look like you, and perhaps have more opportunities. You’ve got to build that culture here.”

Like the revitalization of the steel plant where The Foundry Hotel now sits, Crosby is forging that culture.

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Tags: black travel, boutique hotels, cultural tourism, culture, curio, DEI, diversity, diversity and inclusion, future of lodging, hilton, history, hotel design, hotel operations, lifestyle hotels, localization, north carolina, preservation

Photo credit: Larry Crosby is general manager of The Foundry Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, has design details that tell the story of its former use as a foundry and about the surrounding neighborhood with a Black history. Source: The Foundry Hotel.

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