When The Druker Company broke ground 50 years ago on the land that became The Colonnade Hotel — a $10 million, 11-story Brutalist structure on Huntington Avenue with 306 rooms and a rooftop pool — developer Ron Druker had just graduated from business school and was taking a larger role in the family development business.
His daughter Kimberly, then 18 months old and wearing red Mary Jane shoes, did her own groundbreaking in a patch of sand. And if Druker has any regrets about the hotel’s construction, it’s that he didn’t save his daughter’s red shoes.
“I still recall those little red patent leather Mary Janes,” he said. “If I had been really smart, I would have saved them.”
Beyond that, the hotel has exceeded all expectations.
It was built at a time when Boston was starved for new hotels. While The Colonnade was under construction, then-Mayor Kevin White told a Globe reporter that Druker’s father — Bertram Druker — “has stepped into a very critical area, that of providing sufficient hotel space in the city, because we are destitute for it.”
And it was in a location — bridging the South End and Back Bay — that has changed enormously, going from an abandoned rail yard, a demolished Christian Science Church apartment building, and a series of outdoor plazas to blocks that sparkle with malls, apartments, and office towers like 111 Huntington.
“The whole area has just grown up around us,” Druker said. “We like to think that we were a catalyst for future growth.”
And ahead of its 50th birthday this year, The Colonnade got a refresh. The idea was to embrace its Brutalist style, one Druker said he admired (”I have always liked City Hall, from the day I saw it,” he said.) In the hotel’s lobby, workers stripped columns of their mahogany and mirrored glass paneling to reveal the original concrete.
“We exposed the concrete columns inside, which sort of brought the outside in,” Druker said. “While the interior is warm and comfortable, there are no hard edges to it, we do have those concrete columns inside to remind people of the exterior design.”
The area around the roof deck pool, closed for the winter but set to reopen around Memorial Day, has new cabanas and a bar. Behind the scenes, there’s a new HVAC system to improve ventilation amid COVID-19. A restaurant that opened in the weeks before the pandemic hit, Lucie Drink + Dine, is back in business serving $17 upscale breakfast sandwiches in the morning and $38 steak frites for dinner.
“It’s hard for me to realize that 50 years, which seems like such a long time if you haven’t lived it, does go by pretty quickly,” Druker said. “And being a lover of cities and a little bit of an urbanist, to see what has transpired relative to cities is inspiring.”
Business is not back to what it was before the pandemic. Like other Boston hotels, The Colonnade saw an uptick in local leisure travel over the summer and fall, but business travelers and conferences have not returned, said David Colella, the hotel’s vice president and managing director and 29-year veteran of The Colonnade. That’s been difficult, he said.
“In a city like Boston, a large city with the number of hotels that we have, you have to rely on a percentage of all those markets,” Colella said. “The good news is, we’re slowly getting there. ... We’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel and experiencing some demand for function business.”
There are about 125 employees working at the hotel now, Colella said. Some have been there for decades. Most are back to working as many hours as they did before the pandemic, though a few longtime employees have stepped back and taken on fewer days a week. Colella said they can work enough hours to ensure their health insurance.
“There’s a lot of history here of tenure, and you don’t see that a lot in the hotel business,” Colella said. “There’s usually a lot of turnover. But when you do see it, you see it with an employee who stays on staff [in the same position] for a long time. Here, people have moved up.”
And now the hotel itself has moved up, too, with a nod to its past.
Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.