Uncovering the past: The Eliza Jane

Celebrating the indomitable spirit of its namesake and city, a 196-room boutique hotel embraces its storied history in an elegant design touched with just the right amount of nostalgia and whimsy.

Located in the Central Business District, The Eliza Jane is a uniquely-designed addition to The Unbound Collection by Hyatt. Purchased and developed by Rockbridge and HRI Properties, this one-of-a-kind hotel is actually a cluster of nine historic, Magazine Street warehouses that have been renovated and combined into one, without sacrificing each structure’s distinctive character.

The hotel is named after one of our city’s most famous females, Eliza Jane Nicholson. According to sources at the Historic New Orleans Collection, she was born in 1843 to an affluent lumbering family in Mississippi and began her lettered journey submitting nature-themed poetry under the pseudonym “Pearl Rivers” to The Daily Picayune for publish. Against all odds (and her family’s wishes), she moved to New Orleans and eventually became the first professional woman journalist in the South.

In 1878, she married the publisher of The Daily Picayune, Colonel Alva Holbrook, and inherited the paper when her husband died only four years later. Not only did Eliza become the first female publisher of a major metropolitan newspaper in the country, but under her management, the paper became extremely profitable with the highest circulation of any in the Southwest. In addition, she hired a lot of women reporters and gave them the same pay as their male counterparts. Plus, her editorial causes helped to improve women’s rights to employment and equal pay, animal rights and public education.

The Eliza Jane hotel’s design succeeds at living up to such a remarkable and forthright namesake. In stripping away the previous tenant’s décor, New York City design firm Stonehill Taylor desired to bring the property’s historical aspects to the surface. “We really wanted to highlight all of the historic features of the building.” says Bethany Gale, Senior Designer. “Any existing metalwork we painted black so it’d really pop against the color. That was our intention from the beginning, bringing out the beauty of the building.”

Other elements offer playful nods to Eliza Jane Nicholson and The Daily Picayune. A subtle feminine influence is apparent in the overall palate, with jewel tones in the public spaces and subdued pinks in the guest rooms. Dubbed the The Press Room, the central bar is accessorized with locally sourced antique typewriters and books. “There’s also seven different featured wall coverings throughout the public corridors as you transition through each warehouse and one of them is dedicated to the The Daily Picayune.” says Gale.

One of the design team’s biggest challenges was incorporating nine different spaces into a whole, while respecting the rules outlined for buildings listed on the National Historic Register. Instead of attempting to make it all look and feel the same, Stonehill Taylor celebrated those differences while still keeping a semblance of continuity. “There were so many different conditions and strange spaces, twists and turns, different room heights and hidden corners, weird bedrooms with no windows,” says Michael Suomi, Principal at Stonehill Taylor. “We made that a part of our concept to celebrate all of those strange spaces … the use of different materials, exposing the brickwork and the tie rods that hold the building together.”

As the saying goes, first impressions matter, and in the case of The Eliza Jane, a lot of emphasis was placed on the entrance. The previous design was humorously described as a bowling alley, where one could see all the way down a great hallway to the bank of elevators at the end. A ‘storefront-like’ look was added with fluted glass, giving a guest and entry or arrival point featuring a large format hex-tiled floor. Then, past the exposed brick walls, there’s a check-in area to the right featuring a faded blue bookshelf and desk with pulls reminiscent of a library card catalog. “Adding an entryway that creates a sense of formal arrival is something we feel is very indicative of New Orleans.” says Suomi. “There’s a ‘once upon a time’ formality to, not just the building, but the personality of New Orleans.”

Later this summer, The Eliza Jane will also open its own restaurant named Couvant, “a signature French brasserie” with its own modern slant. Housed within the warehouse that once contained the Peychaud Bitters factory, the restaurant will feature a 300 square foot bar made of oak and re-purposed newel posts and (like any classic New Orleans space) a lush courtyard that will connect the hotel to the restaurant. Though the previous tenants offered a small swimming pool, the design team at Stonehill Taylor thought a beautiful fountain would better represent the overall feel at The Eliza Jane. In the center of the fountain is a custom, Mardi Gras-inspired female sculpture designed by local artist Brent Barnidge. “She’s like a free spirit emerging…” says Gale.

*Article originally published in the June 2018 issue of New Orleans Living Magazine

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