Still Loyal & True
But Now Brand New
The renovated Atherton Hotel retains historic charm with modern amenities
After undergoing a complete remodel, the legendary Atherton Hotel at Oklahoma State University has reopened for guests. Visitors can indulge in a contemporary home-away-from-home, with the additions of the State Room bar and lounge, east entrance, south tower with new elevator and expanded patio. The luxurious property with thoughtful amenities offers a charming respite to weary travelers disenchanted with a cookie-cutter hotel experience.
The Atherton Hotel is managed by Persimmon Ridge Management LLC, a partnership that began in 2012. Jim Barnard, CEO of the company as well as an OSU School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration board member, oversees the hotel.
“We are on par with some of the finest hotels across the U.S.,” he says.
Originally referred to as the “Waldorf of the West," the Atherton is now essentially a brand-new hotel inside a classic Georgian structure. In 2004, it was recognized through the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which celebrates and honors the finest hotel properties that have maintained historic integrity, architecture and first-class ambience.
“To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be recognized as having historic significance,” says Heather Taylor of the Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. “The property must be at least 50 years old and designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic places.”
Since 1950, The Atherton Hotel has served as a pre-eminent boutique hotel welcoming alumni, dignitaries and others to the OSU campus in Stillwater. The hotel was built as part of the Student Union within the framework of Dr. Henry Bennett’s vision during his tenure as president of Oklahoma A&M College.
“It was a very unique situation — there wasn’t anything like it at the time,” Jim Barnard says.
Guests anticipated a special experience, and that’s just what they got. Famous visitors have included dignitaries and celebrities such as Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, Bob Hope, Faith Hill, Coretta Scott King and five United States presidents.
These are the first large-scale changes for the Atherton in roughly 15 years. OSU alumnus W.S. Atherton spearheaded and was the cornerstone donor for a $6 million hotel renovation campaign in 2001.
“The latest project started in 2014 with a total renovation of the property,” Jim Barnard says. “The shell is historical — but it’s a new hotel.”
Level by level, the building was completely gutted down to the supporting cement, pillars and floors. Everything is new from the mechanical aspects, such as plumbing, electrical, and heating, ventilating and air-conditioning, to its decorative details.
“The renovation has been achieved through a significant investment by the university and from private contributions and donations to the project,” says Nigel Jones, university architect and professor in OSU’s School of Architecture.
As guests arrive on campus, the new east-facing hotel entrance is clearly visible now and accessible from Hester Street, with a drive-up portico and valet parking.
“Facing the entrance to the east, which returns the front entry to its historic origins, was a key component of the renovation,” Jim Barnard says.
Welcoming guests as they enter the hotel are lobby seating at banker-style desks, attentive staff and a round-the-clock bellman — all of which make for a more intimate and embracing experience.
“The new registration lobby enhances the sense of arrival to the hotel from the new porte-cochere to the east with a warm background, rich coloration, new wood floors and a design that is both classic and straightforward,” says Tim Zebrowski, owner and design principle for the Zebrowski Design Group in Culver City, California. He has created interiors for hotels worldwide from the Singapore Regent Hotel to the Intercontinental Houston and The Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco.
After helping with the hotel’s renovations 15 years ago, Zebrowski returned to help develop and implement the hotel’s current design concept.
“The lobby lounge, which looks toward the west, overlooks the Price Family Garden. This lounge has a faint celadon background, wood floors, custom carpets and seating that provides a comfortable spot to meet and enjoy quiet conversations.
“Working closely with Nigel Jones and Jim Barnard, we developed an interior design that was comfortable, relaxed, upscale and inclusive of the Georgian design traditions of OSU,” he says. “The design of the hotel guest rooms combines rich woods, neutral background tones and warm accents. Straightforward patterns are used on classic furniture styles, and accents are in the details, including the university's registered plaid applied to the Pendleton blankets in the guest rooms.”
Rooms have been combined and newly configured to better accommodate guests, and the larger bathrooms are far more comfortable, equipped with walk-in and glass-enclosed showers, longer vanities with storage, improved lighting, premium toiletries and terry bathrobes. And we can’t forget the cheerful yellow rubber ducks, a tradition suggested by Patrick Moreo, a former head of OSU’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
“It was a stroke of genuis,” says Josh Barnard, manager of hotel operations. “Guests are enamored with those ducks.”
The rooms are fewer — around 69 as opposed to 81 — but larger now, offering today’s guests the space they really need.
With 20 room types, each one has its own unique features with plush upholstered furnishings and classic cherry woods. Feather beds are dressed with 300-thread count Egyptian linens, goose down pillows and orange-gingham duvets with non-allergenic pillows and blankets available. Complimentary WiFi, iHome docking stations, individual coffee makers, wine glasses and complimentary bottled water are thoughtful touches.
An image of Pistol Pete appears on the room temperature monitor controls. The construction of the south tower provided space for the new elevator shaft, and the fire escape moved inside. Some rooms include balconies, and there is also a selection of suites, an on-site exercise facility and a conference room.
“The rooms are very comfortable,” says Melanie Field, University Store general merchandise assistant manager. “They are equipped with anything you would need for a night’s stay. I will be recommending this hotel to all of my out-of-town guests.”
Other updates include improved room service and the addition of a new pub/bar area known as the State Room, which is the former name of the exquisite Ranchers Club.
“Opening up the brick wall with glass windows on the west side helps define the entrance to The Ranchers Club and provides a garden entrance to the hotel and State lounge area,” Josh Barnard says.
“We call The Ranchers Club a scratch kitchen essentially — nearly everything is homemade. Most of the ingredients come from the Price Family Garden. We are really unique in that fashion,” says Naveen Kodadhala, director of food and beverage services for The Ranchers Club and The Atherton Hotel.
The restaurant recently hired a beverage coordinator who specializes in customized cocktails and uses distinct homemade recipes.
“We’re not just pouring drinks anymore,” Kodadhala says. “It’s a unique experience — true to itself. We wanted to focus the State Room around a menu that complements the whole beverage program; hence, the menu plays around smaller shareable portions — a tapas concept. It’s the perfect value; you’re not completely filled up, and it gives you the opportunity to order and try more things.”
The Ranchers Club was the first restaurant in Stillwater to offer a carryout app. Orders can be placed up to a week in advance and set to a specific time. Guests can make reservations online via the Open Table app.
While the Atherton’s primary mission is to provide impeccable service to guests, it continues to double as an experiential classroom to train future hospitality professionals in the art of hotel and restaurant administration. The Atherton Hotel and The Ranchers Club provide “real world” lodging and dining laboratories for OSU students.
“Our mission is to serve our alumni and visiting dignitaries, but we also have a mission that involves the School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration and several other departments on campus,” Jim Barnard says. “Students complete internships in the hotel. There are classes in the hotel that Josh [Barnard] helps coordinate, so it has a teaching mission as well. It's really the true essence of a living lab."
Ranked eighth among the top 100 hospitality and tourism programs worldwide, this particular program is the only teaching curriculum in the Central Plains states that includes two restaurants operated by the school as well as active participation learning labs at area hotels.
“The partnership between the School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration and The Atherton Hotel provides our students with an enhanced educational opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of hotel operations, customer service and management,” says Ben Goh, assistant dean and director of the School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration. “These future hospitality professionals are exposed to all working areas of the hotel and gain valuable insight into hotel management. It is very exciting to watch our students develop a passion for hospitality as they progress through this learning experience.”
While the hotel is complete, guests can look forward to even more. The hotel’s future vision, “Traditions at the Atherton,” will include condominiums added onto the south tower, which will create a u-shaped hotel centering on the Price Family Garden, Formal Gardens, Edmon Low Library lawn and Theta Pond.
The Barnards and others hope guests will grasp the vision for “Traditions” through the new Atherton. They promise an even more upscale and dramatic experience with the condos — guests will truly feel part of the campus.
“There’s a vibe on campus,” Josh Barnard says. “People really like coming back and feeling that. It’s a very comfortable stay.”
There’s no question that the new Atherton is delighting guests, enhancing their ties with what it means to be a Cowboy, and the future condos will do the same and more.
“The location is next to none. It’s impossible to beat,” Jim Barnard says.
Overlooking OSU’s picturesque Formal Gardens and Theta Pond, The Atherton Hotel allows visitors to move quickly from blissful tranquility into the hustle and bustle of the college campus.
“The Atherton Hotel is ready to embark on its next generation of service — showcasing the quality and dignity of the university, providing an exceptional teaching opportunity, and greeting newcomers and old friends alike in a setting as unique as Oklahoma State University,” Zebrowski says.
Plan your visit to The Atherton Hotel by calling 405-744-6835 or visiting athertonhotelatosu.com.
More stories like this are available for members of the OSU Alumni Association. STATE magazine is a benefit of membership in the OSU Alumni Association. To join or update your membership go to orangeconnection.org/join or call 405-744-5368.
Uploaded on September 1, 2016
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The renovated Atherton Hotel retains historic enities