French Lick and West Baden, Indiana, are sister towns and sister resorts. French Lick is the more popular sister, that’s where you’ll find all the hustle and bustle. There’s the casino, lots of family activities and condos available for rent. There’s a lot going on here, and you’ll see kids, golfers and good ole boys. This is where you go to party and have fun.
West Baden is the older, quieter, more mature sister. She’s a little more upscale than what you’ll find at French Lick. Here the towels were larger and thicker, the robes heavier, the slippers at the spa were real, not the throw-aways they had at French Lick. The furniture was heavier and more substantial, The colors and the materials were richer. The tile more intricate and detailed. This is where you want to go to be pampered and to relax.
Architecturally, West Baden is a gem. Known as the "Eighth Wonder of the World" when it was built, it was the largest dome the world had ever seen.
The previous hotel burned down in 1901 and was rebuilt using the owner’s, Lee W. Sinclair, vision and the talent of a young architect, Harrison Albright, who wasn’t afraid to take on Sinclair’s vision.
That vision was to create a circular building with the world’s largest dome, out of fire resistant materials. It’s this building that still stands today, thanks to a massive renovation that began in 1997 and ended $30 million dollars and 30 months later.
The dome continues to be the defining characteristic of the hotel. The rooms are all arranged in a circle around it, half facing in to the atrium and half facing the exterior grounds. I was impressed by the mix of old and new. The original character and many of the original features remained in tact, but that didn’t keep them from updating the room to modern standards. It’s "old world charm" meets modern day. Our king suite was well appointed with an expansive bathroom that included a walk-in shower and a tub, out ante chamber had a butler’s pantry with sink (so convenient for that morning coffee) and the bedroom itself was spacious. Plenty of room to spread out.
The dome of the lobby mimics the larger dome of the hotel.
Beautiful stained glass doors.
Detail above the doors. There are said to be paintings of saints hidden in a room over the main dome keeping watch over all who dwell there.
The dome and atrium.
Detail of the dome.
The indoor pool, or natatorium, and fitness center. The spa is above, women to the right, men to the left, and combined rooms, for that special couple’s massage for instance, on the far side where there’s access from both sides.
Well-appointed fitness center shower. I love the combination of old and new tile.
Here you can see the stamped and stained concrete to the left that has an old world Roman bath quality while being practical and functional for today’s needs. Original mosaic tile that reminds us how old this wonder really edges the shower facility and new but timeless marble blend seamlessly. The walls around the pool are ground face cmu, which, like the concrete floor, maintains that old world feel while being practical and easily maintained. The walls of the locker room add in a little color and a three dimensional quality that speaks of the richer materials you find throughout the building and makes you feel pampered.
The tile was the real winner for me all the way around, and it turns out Cincinnati had a hand in making that happen.
View of the sunken garden and West Baden Resort from the former Billiard and Bowling Pavilion.
Entrance to one of the formal mineral baths that made French Lick and West Baden famous in the 1800s. Unfortunately it was filled in during the resorts former life as a Jesuit school.
We are always exploring the world and architecture around us. Let us know if you have a favorite place that we should visit!