The Brown Hotel turns 100 on October 25.
Please join us as we celebrate.

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Please send us your favorite story of our founder J. Graham Brown, or your favorite Hot Brown or Brown Hotel story.

Ten best stories win a night in a Luxury guest room for $19.23.

*Submission entries closed*

Update: We would like to thank all of our past guests & friends who shared their Brown Hotel story. Following are parts of the letters from some of our winners:

In our family, our favorite story of the Brown Hotel involves a collection of memories that have been passed down through 6 generations.  My great grandfather attended a dinner at the Brown with then president Herbert Hoover.  As you can see from the invitation the cost of the dinner with the president was $5.00 per plate. The dinner was held on Oct. 23rd, 1929. This turned out to be the evening before “black Tuesday” on Oct. 24th, 1929 when the stock market suffered its then worst sell off, leading to the Great Depression. We are preserving the invitation in a frame as a reminder in changes in fate and fortune that can happen quickly.

My mother as a teenager in the 1930’s, played harp on a Sunday morning radio broadcast show from the Brown Hotel.

In growing up we always went to the Brown Hotel, where a Hot Brown was usually our choice.

Elizabeth W.

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My insurance agency has been located across the street from the Brown for almost 30 years. As a pastor, I have officiated several weddings in the ballroom with my company, I have facilitated conferences and award ceremonies at the Brown. It is not just the architecture, not just the beautiful attention to detail, not just the ambience and interior design but a commitment by the people of the Brown to provide excellent experiences for their guests.

Thomas B.

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I will never forget the incredible memories my wife and I share at the Brown Hotel. In 2009, upon returning from a 15 month deployment to Iraq we were delighted to learn that our chaplain’s office was sponsoring a marriage retreat for couples to reunite while taking a much needed break from military duties.

As we sat in your incredibly adorned conference room taking in the sites of nearly a hundred years of history, we were amazed and felt blessed beyond measure to have an opportunity that we might not have otherwise had if it wasn’t for the staff at the Brown who recognized and thanked us for our Service to the nation on a repeated basis and the incredible way we were treated like family that made our stay one of our most memorable times of our lives together.

We had never stayed in such a luxurious hotel, and I can attest that the atmosphere and staff made you feel like a million dollars, and you honestly have no choice but to revel in the experience and be transported back in time so easily forgotten. Looking at an invitation to a function hosted in honor of Abraham Lincoln hanging on a pillar in the Hotel Lobby just made you feel the history and I quickly welled up with pride.

We want to thank and congratulate you on your 100thBirthday…may you have 100 more!

Chuck and Teresa H.

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A Brief History of a Long Louisville Tradition

Our historic Louisville story is one of fairytale romance and unforgiving reality, played out against the backdrop of some of the most remarkable events of the early 20th century. The Great Depression, the Ohio River Flood of 1937, World War II – each of these milestone events helped to shape the history of our storied hotel.

Built by wealthy Louisville businessman J. Graham Brown, The Brown Hotel opened in downtown Louisville at the corner of Fourth and Broadway on October 25, 1923. That year, 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 Hotel became the cornerstone of "The Magic Corner." In the decades since, our historic hotel has played a starring role in the life of Louisville.

The Beginning

The Brown Hotel opened in 1923, only 10 months after construction began, at the cost of four million dollars. David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, became the first person to sign the guest register. The 16-story concrete and steel hotel was built in the Georgian Revival style, faced in brick and trimmed in stone and terra cotta. The interior design of The Brown Hotel is primarily of the English Renaissance style with Adams period detail.

"Magic Corner" Hotel in Louisville Takes on a Whole New Meaning

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. 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.

Prohibition

Prohibition was in effect from the time the hotel opened until 1933, and the Great Depression of the 1930's stalled J. 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.

A Period of Transition for Historic Louisville Hotels

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 in the second floor lobby.

Mid-Twentieth Century

Boom time for The Brown Hotel 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 Hotel. 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 Fort 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."

The Star of Historic Louisville Hotels Comes into Its Own

Through the years, The Brown Hotel'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 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 Hotel's superior accommodations have been the Duke of Windsor, Harry Truman, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Young, Joan Crawford, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Carter, George H. Bush, and Barack Obama to name just a few.

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