Welcome to the Hotel du Pont, one of few landmark Wilmington hotels, with a rich and fascinating history.
Envisioned by du Pont president Pierre S. du Pont, Hotel du Pont was designed to rival the finest hotels in Europe. The plans called for 150 guest rooms, a main dining room, rathskeller, men's café/bar, ballroom, club room, ladies' sitting room and more. It was an ambitious plan for hotels in Wilmington Delaware, then a city of just 80,000 people.
Opening day on January 15, 1913 brought 295 invited guests in horse-drawn carriages to the du Pont Hotel's red-carpeted door. During the first week alone, 25,000 visitors toured the newest of Wilmington Hotels.
No expense was spared in the creation of Wilmington's crowning achievement. In the ornate Hotel du Pont public spaces, nearly two dozen French and Italian craftsmen carved, gilded and painted for over two and a half years. Suites with large sitting rooms all featured cozy fireplaces. Polished brass beds were made up with imported linen, while sterling silver comb, brush and mirror sets were placed on the dressing tables.
In the main Hotel du Pont Dining Room, now known as the Green Room, fumed oak paneling soared two and a half stories from the mosaic and terrazzo floors below. Rich forest greens, browns and ivories, embellished with gold, decorated the room. Six handcrafted chandeliers and a musicians' gallery overlooked the opulence.
After dinner, many guests enjoyed professional performances at the Hotel du Pont’s own Playhouse Theatre, now known as the Du Pont Theatre. Built in only 150 days in late 1913, its stage is larger than all but three of the New York theatres.
During the early days of the Brandywine and Christina Rooms, the Hotel du Pont showed its commitment to struggling local artists by displaying their works. Today, they highlight one of the foremost collections of Brandywine art, including three generations of original Wyeth masterpieces.
Through the years, the Hotel du Pont continued to evolve with the times. In 1918, 118 guest rooms were added and the beautiful Rose Room - the French salon reserved for women - became the new lobby. Wooden inlaid floors became marble, mirrored walls were replaced with imported travertine stone, and the ceiling was sculptured with carved rosettes and scrolls.
The original Hotel du Pont lobby became the Hotel's Soda Shop, with the former entrance serving as a fashionable ladies' hat shop. In 1955 the Soda Shop was displaced and space was made for the many shops that line the corridors today.
The Gold Ballroom, added with the 1918 expansion, is a testament to craftsmanship and artistry. Two twelve-foot high American walnut doors, hand carved with designs of peacocks and urns, frame the entrance to this magnificent room.
At the top is massive hand carved Caen stone imported from France. It depicts a bountiful harvest at the entrance, representing the gaiety found within, and industrious squirrels at the exit, indicating a return to the working world.
The walls were executed in sgraffito, a kind of "scratching" dating from the Italian Renaissance. The process consists of multiple layers of colored plaster, in which the design is hand cut or scratched with special tools; the depth of the cut or scratch determines the color of the design. It took thirty Italian artisans over one year to complete the room in this now-lost art.
The decoration of the Gold Ballroom is dedicated to love, beginning with the four oval figures, or cartouches, located over the doors at the corner of the Ballroom. These depict the courtship of birds, fish and stars and reveal the humor of the early 20th century artisans.
The only thing as legendary as the Hotel's design is the lobby registry. Through the years, the Hotel has been host to presidents, politicians, Kings, Queens, sports figures, corporate giants and celebrities.
International greats and glitterati include: Charles Lindbergh; Amelia Earhart; Ingrid Bergman; Prince Rainier of Monaco; Joe DiMaggio; John F. Kennedy; Jacques Cousteau; Eleanor Roosevelt; Elizabeth Taylor; Katherine Hepburn; Duke Ellington; King Carl XVI Gustaf and Prince Bertil of Sweden; Norman Rockwell; Henry Kissinger; Kathleen Turner; Bob Hope; Lucille Ball; and many more. Recently, former President George Bush, Barry Manilow, Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillipe, Warren Buffet, Joe Gibbs, Jeff Gordon, and Whoopi Goldberg have been seen strolling through the Lobby.
Despite its legendary past, the Hotel du Pont fell victim to "modernization" in the 1950s. The beautiful handcrafted furniture, Oriental carpets and lighting fixtures were replaced with chrome, artificial leather, modern carpets and new lighting. The handsome walnut reception desk was covered. The Palm Court, the mezzanine floor above the lobby, was paneled off with plastic; the mosaic and parquet floors were hidden by new carpeting.
The exterior of the Hotel was altered as well. The 37 balconies on the facade were removed. And the striking iron and opal glass marquee, a symbol of elegance for hotels of that era, was replaced by a new 127-foot long steel and aluminum marquee.
Today, the lobby has been fully restored and the guest rooms have been completely refurbished. The Hotel du Pont is committed to retaining the warmth that has made it so highly regarded. In the future, as in the past, every historic floor of the Hotel du Pont will continue tell a legendary story.