Goodnight Raleigh - a look at the art, architecture, history, and people of the city at night

The Velvet Cloak Inn, “Enjoy the Velvet Touch,” Raleigh, N.C.

Velvet Cloak_web

This week Flashback Friday checks in at Raleigh’s once prestigious luxury hotel, The Velvet Cloak Inn. Sadly, just as in the legend of the cloak of Elizabethan courtier, Sir Walter Raleigh, the City of Raleigh’s namesake, the Velvet Cloak is nowadays covered in  mud.

Velvet Cloak_back_web

This week’s card was postmarked on August 8, 1974.

8/7/74 — Atlanta, Ga.
Dear Grace & Art ,
Many, many thanks to you for mailing me the articles of extreme interest. I read them and wept to think so many Americans are un-American! You and I will not live to see the U.S. crumble, perhaps, but the downfall of this nation is just around the corner!
Love, Marian

A curiosity about old postcards I find intriguing is the message written on the back. If you have been following Flashback Friday since we first began posting this column, you will know that the message seldom has anything to do with the image on the front of the card.

This week’s message from ‘Marian’ is a real puzzler. I can only assume she was referring to the protests against the Viet Nam War, or perhaps President Nixon’s fall from grace over the Watergate scandal. Who knows. Whatever it was that got her so riled back then, now forty years hence, the U.S. has not crumbled; though many in this country would argue still, in the context of the 21st century state of affairs, “the downfall of this nation is just around the corner.” Some things seemingly never change.

The Velvet Cloak Inn — from Riches to Rags

The Velvet Cloak opened on Hillsboro Street just down the road from NC State University in 1962. It was Raleigh’s first hotel built outside the downtown core. Amenities included a first-rate restaurant, an elegant lobby setting, well-appointed rooms with color TV, gated parking, a glass atrium-enclosed heated pool, and a basement nightclub, the Club of Eight Lords. Everything about the Velvet Cloak was swathed in Raleigh history.

The building itself was designed by Raleigh architect Leif Valand, better known as the principal architect of Cameron Village. For the Velvet Cloak he adopted a New Orleans, Old South motif, very different from his more characteristic modernist style, because, it is said, that was the look the developer wanted. Nonetheless, the elegance of the ultimate result befitted Hillsboro Street.

Courtesy and with permission: (Raleigh) News & Observer

Photo courtesy and with permission: (Raleigh) News & Observer

This photo shows how the Velvet Cloak appeared shortly after it opened in 1962. The dining room, below, featured a replica of the North Carolina Charter from King Charles II issued to the Eight Lords Proprietors in 1663. 

Photo courtesy and with permission: (Raleigh) News & Observer

Photo courtesy and with permission: (Raleigh) News & Observer

 Another view of the dining room shows waitresses wearing ‘colonial’ style uniforms.

Photo courtesy and with permission: (Raleigh) News & Observer

Photo courtesy and with permission: (Raleigh) News & Observer

 As seen below, ‘bathing beauties’ lounged about the hotel’s glass-enclosed, heated tropical pool in 1963.

Photo courtesy and with permission: (Raleigh) News & Observer

Photo courtesy and with permission: (Raleigh) News & Observer

For 30 years The Velvet Cloak Inn reigned as one of Raleigh’s grandest hotels, and counted among its guests popular celebrities, state and national political dignitaries, prominent businessmen, and the Raleigh elite. Countless wedding receptions, conventions, and special events took place within its walls.

Nowadays, the once elegant hostelry is a virtual derelict. The restaurant and nightclub closed years ago, the lobby is but a shabby shadow of its original elegance, and the heated atrium pool has degenerated into a slime bog.

So What Happened?

As Raleigh grew over the decades, and as larger, ‘high end’ hotels and convention facilities sprouted throughout the Triangle, the lure of the downtown, and some would say, outdated, Velvet Cloak began to wane. Though still popular with businessmen and a loyal NC State University clientele, the vibrant luster of the old grande dame had begun to fade by the late 1990s.

A new owner purchased the property in 2005, and while still trying to function as a hotel, the developer converted many rooms to condominium units. Rebranded as the Velvet Cloak Villas, the aging building subsequently was not properly maintained, customer service declined, and many of the promised amenities proved to be a sham.

Ultimately, the owners offered to buy back the condo units at a quarter of the original $80,000 purchase price. Although many residents felt they had been scammed, most took the buyout. Today only a handful still occupy their units.

In case you want to learn all the gory details of the Velvet Cloak debacle, the IndyWeek  published a full expose last summer.

Photo credit: Ian F.G. Dunn

Photo credit: Ian F.G. Dunn

As a sad visual endnote, Goodnight Raleigh photographer Ian F.G. Dunn recently took these photos of the now abandoned, yet once bathing beauty-draped atrium swimming pool.

Photo credit: Ian F.G. Dunn

Photo credit: Ian F.G. Dunn

This single life preserver floating in the algae-infested pool says it all, doesn’t it. 

 

Our Flashback Friday photochrome postcard this week was printed by the Curt Teich Co. of Chicago under the trade name ‘CurTeichColor 3-D Natural Color Reproduction.’

Curt Teich Co. (1893-1974)  Chicago, IL

A major publisher and printer. Their U.S. factories turned out more cards in quantity than any other printer. They published a wide range of national view-cards of America and Canada. Many consider them one of the finest producers of White Border Cards. The Linen Type postcard came about through their innovations as they pioneered the use of offset lithography. They were purchased by Regensteiner Publishers in 1974 which continued to print cards at the Chicago plant until 1978.

Curt Teich logo

 

“Flashback Friday” is a weekly feature of Goodnight, Raleigh! in which we showcase vintage postcards depicting our historic capital city. We hope you enjoy this week end treat!

 


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