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At a time when the nation was gripped in the throes of the Great Depression, Milton S. Hershey undertook the building of a magnificent hotel atop Pat's Hill overlooking his chocolate factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Hershey, having perfected his formula for milk chocolate and constructed the factory nearly three decades earlier, was faced during the Depression with the prospect of either employing his town's construction workers or providing for their welfare.
Over the objections of his close friends and associates, who urged him to conserve his resources, and his mother, who said the idea was hopelessly extravagant, Hershey announced in 1930 that he intended to build the hotel. It had been a dream of Hershey and his wife, Catherine, for many years. At the same time, he would build a community building and a junior-senior high school on Pat's Hill as his school for boys who had lost one or both of their parents.
"We have 600 construction workers in this town," he said. "If I don't provide work for them, I'll have to feed them. And since building materials are now at their lowest cost levels, I'm going to build and give them jobs."
Before Catherine Hershey died in 1915, she urged her husband to build a hotel "like the great Heliopolis Hotel in Cairo," Egypt. Now, as Hershey finally prepared to construct the Hotel, he contacted the architect of the Heliopolis and arranged to purchase his plans. But when it was estimated that the cost of duplicating the structure would be $5 million, Hershey abandoned the idea.
Instead, he gave his architect and chief engineer, D. Paul Witmer, a picture postcard showing the front view of a 30-room hotel the Hershey's had enjoyed on the Mediterranean. It had a U-shaped base with a tower at either end. Witmer was tasked with using the design to create a 170-room hotel.
That was not the end of Hershey's ideas for the project. He and Catherine had kept notes of their travels abroad, and Hershey instructed Witmer to outfit the new hotel with a Spanish patio, tiled floors, a fountain and a circular dining room with a good view from every table. "In some places, if you don't tip well, they put you in a corner," Hershey said. "I don't want any corners."
During construction, as many as 800 steelworkers, masons, carpenters, and other craftsmen and laborers were employed on the Hershey payroll. The work proceeded at a breathtaking pace. The project was begun in 1932, continued through a very mild winter and was completed on May 23, 1933.
Hershey held a formal opening celebration on May 26, 1933, with a dinner and dance for 400 invited guests. He told the assemblage, "I am a simple farmer. I like to utilize nature's beauty for the pleasure of men. This hotel where you are assembled has been a dream of mine for many years."
The $2 million hotel opened for business the next day. Hershey had realized his dream and created an elegant hotel designed according to the 19th century manner of the "grand hotel." A local newspaper observed, "Somewhat belying the simplicity of taste for which the 'Chocolate King' is noted, the hotel is characterized by great luxury of detail and elegance of appointment. Tinted walls, palms and fountains, carved and grilled woodwork and brilliant hangings and rugs."
A nine-hole golf course was built on The Hotel Hershey grounds in 1934. The grand ballroom, named the Castilian Room, opened in June, 1935. That fall, a wine cellar and The Hotel's first service bar opened after being delayed by Prohibition. Air conditioning was installed during the 1950's and meeting rooms were added in 1957 to satisfy the growing demands of group business. The outdoor swimming pool opened in 1961, a 100-room new wing in 1977, The Fountain Cafe in 1993 and Cocoa Beanery in 1997. In January 2001, The Spa at The Hotel Hershey opened with signature chocolate treatments such as the Whipped Cocoa Bath and Chocolate Fondue Wrap. The 17,000 square foot spa incorporates indigenous ingredients of chocolate and roses into its innovative services. In December 2003, The Hotel Hershey expanded nearly doubling the number of treatment rooms.
The Hotel Hershey guests have long enjoyed the nearby Hershey Gardens, a botanical display garden which graces more than 20 acres just south of The Hotel. Hershey Gardens was established in 1936 upon instructions of Mr. Hershey that "a nice garden of roses" be planted within walking distance of the newly completed hotel. The garden welcomed visitors in June of 1937 with a display consisting solely of 7,000 roses arranged in formal beds. In the ensuing years Hershey Gardens has grown into a botanical display garden featuring spectacular seasonal flowering displays, handsome collections of specimen trees and shrubs, 5 themed garden areas and an award-winning Rose Garden that now includes nearly 14,000 roses and some 800 varieties.
Today, The Hotel Hershey is recognized as one of the great resorts of North America, where guests can enjoy the spa, golf, tennis, indoor and outdoor swimming, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, lawn bowling, horseback riding, hiking, and more..
The Hotel Hershey is a longtime recipient of the AAA 4 Diamond Award. In addition, the Hotel has received the Gold Key Award presented by Meetings and Conventions Magazine and the Pinnacle Award presented by Successful Meetings Magazine in recognition of outstanding meeting facilities. The Hotel Hershey is a member of Historic Hotels of America.
In 1998, The Hotel Hershey refurbished 91 of its guest rooms to the Mediterranean style of its exterior. The Hotel also added four Executive Suites and a new Presidential Suite. The French doors of the Presidential Suite open onto a large terrace overlooking the Hershey Gardens making it a premier site for VIP receptions.
The Hotel can accommodate groups from 5 to 500. Both the Garden Terrace Ballroom and the Castilian Room offer dramatic views of the majestic gardens and surrounding countryside. A large terrace off the Castilian Room and an expansive veranda overlooking Hershey Gardens are popular sites for meeting breaks, cocktail parties, and weddings.
The Circular features gourmet meals served in the grand tradition of The Hotel Hershey. The Fountain Cafe offers casual dining with innovative and eclectic dishes. Harvest offers genuine American cuisine made from the freshest local and regional ingredients. The Iberian Lounge offers a handsome setting to enjoy a glass of fine cognac. At Cocoa Beanery, guests enjoy specialty coffees, delectable pastries and flavored cappuccinos.
The Hotel Hershey continues to build upon a dream that Milton Hershey realized in 1933. The Hotel Hershey has been described by World Traveler Lowell Thomas as a "palace that outpalaces the palaces of the Maharajahs of India."
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