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Issue 22 - Facelift for the future

Scotland Magazine Issue 22
August 2005

 

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Facelift for the future

Edinburgh's “Caley” celebrates more than 100 years of hospitality by seamlessly blending historic with modern

What does it take to bring an historic hotel into the 21st century? For one of two grand dame hotels (the other is the Balmoral) on Princes Street in Edinburgh, it took 130 site operatives a little more than nine months, working on 125 guestrooms, a restaurant and bar, and the leisure club.

Though they consumed more than 70,000 cups of tea, it’s difficult to imagine there was much time for breaks with all the work to be done.

Operatives used 1,500 metres of fabric for new curtains, 450 side lamps in bedrooms, 4,500 square metres of new carpet in bedrooms and 2,300 square metres of new corridor carpet. More than 2,000 square metres of new bathroom wall tiling went in 81 of the guestrooms, while 305 windows were refurbished with new draught-proofing and decoration.

Orange-coloured scaffolding on the Lothian wing’s façade stretched 120 metres long (the equivalent length of a football field) and 36 metres high.

The guestrooms (all in the deluxe and castle view category) will retain a Scottish theme with earthy colours and a mixture of silk and wool fabrics with subtle tartan designs. Broadband internet service, laptop safes and air conditioning cater to business and leisure travellers alike. Two years before this refurbishment, the Caledonian had updated 51 guestrooms in the newer wing to the back of the hotel in a contemporary style, also with broadband internet access and laptop safes.

On the ground floor, Chisholms Restaurant and Bar (renamed the Caley Bar) boast new fixtures and fittings, a new menu and upgraded facilities.

The LivingWell leisure club, which spans two floors, now offers guests new facilities and equipment, including state-of-the-art cardiovascular equipment and a fully equipped weights studio.

“Hilton has spent approximately £16 million since taking over the hotel five years ago,” said Debbie Phillips, director of sales, “including (refurbishment of) the public areas such as the lounge, the car park, LivingWell leisure club, Chisholms Restaurant and the new Caley Bar and most guestrooms.” While refurbishing this historic property it was necessary that work comply with the specifications of Historic Scotland, Edinburgh District Council and the Cockburn Society.

Hand-painted murals, external window frames, the original façade stonework, the grand staircase, Pompadour Restaurant, Castle Suite and Trianon and Versailles Suites could not be changed in terms of structure or design. In addition, there were hidden costs for the refurbishment programme, such as updating plumbing of old pipes (cast iron) to plastic ones.

“One of the challenges in refurbishing the Caledonian is that, due to the age of the building, there are no accurate drawings and many unknown factors when opening walls and floorboards to install new services and check existing facilities,” says general manager Willy Blattner.

The Caledonian Hilton was built alongside Princes Street Station, first opening in 1903 as the Princes Street Station Hotel after four years of construction. It ended its reign as a railway hotel when the station closed in 1965 and the land for the station was converted into the west wing of the hotel.

Guests will find reminders of the property’s time as a railway hotel and station, such as the Hamilton & Inches clocks found in Chisholms Restaurant and Caley Bar, which survived the fire in the former station.

The stone arches from the station are still in the restaurant, as are the original external hotel walls, now part of the restaurant, where the platform of the railway was once located. Stained-glass windows overlooking the magnificent internal staircase still feature the coat of arms of the towns and cities where the Caledonian rail line would pass through.

Though the Caledonian lost business when the station closed, this gave the property an opportunity to expand and enhance existing features. Guests still frequent the property for everything from the incredible view of Edinburgh Castle and its gardens, perched atop Castle Rock; to the famous Pompadour Restaurant, dating back to 1914 and serving a blend of Scottish and International cuisine; and to the mural by artists Robert and Roger Nicholson, hand-painted in 1958 on 4,000 square feet of canvas in the Castle Suite.

“People should make special note of the newly commissioned, hand-painted murals in the Caley Bar, painted in the same style as a 1925 oil on canvas by artist Robert Eastern Stuart, featured in the Caley history book,” says Phillips. “Also the fantastic original art deco lighting in the meeting rooms on the Entresol floor.” A long list of esteemed guests includes Gene Kelly, who danced on the hotel’s sweeping staircase, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Elizabeth Taylor, Rudolph Nureyev, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, British Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela and Sir Sean Connery, who often stays in his favourite suite overlooking Edinburgh Castle.

The Caledonian keeps these high-profile guests and a long list of loyal clientele happy with ongoing improvements and updating. Plans for a third phase of renovation will include the fifth floor meeting rooms, which will undergo a soft refurbishment next year, and a final phase of the guestrooms in 2007.

“Feedback so far has been extremely positive,” said Blattner. “Guests are pleased to see that we are updating facilities without losing the Caley charm.”