The First National Lighthouse is bathed in vibrant color, hailing its rebirth as a powerhouse of opulence and splendor in the heart of Oklahoma City.
The National, a 146-room Autograph by Marriott hotel, opens Tuesday after a $287 million restoration and renovation that is the largest commercial preservation job in the state’s history. Residents began moving into apartments on the 14th through 32nd floors.
The hotel’s opening to the remaining floors marks the first time the building has been fully occupied in more than 30 years when it lost its anchor, the First National Bank, during the height of the 1980s oil crisis.
The hotel joins 12 other historic hotels operated by Tulsa-based Coury Hospitality, including the Colcord and Ambassador hotels in Oklahoma City. Jason Gifford, who previously ran The Last Hotel, another historic St. Louis property, passed on several career advancement opportunities to wait for a chance to apply to be the opening general manager of The National.
After:Dilapidated to decadent: see the new apartments at First National Center
“We’re ahead of what Marriott considers a successful hotel opening,” Gifford said. “Nice to have in the back pocket. Marriott envisions a successful opening at 10 times the number of guest rooms. We have 146 rooms, so when they open they want to see 1,460 rooms on the books. We are already ahead of that.
Further openings are planned over the summer, including the relocation of the First National Barber Shop with the original chairs and fixtures to the first floor; Golden Acorn, a chocolatier and café, a Stock and Bond steakhouse; The Distilled Spirits Library, which will offer over 1,500 unique expressions of distilled spirits and will be located in the ancient basement vaults; and retailer Lucchese Boots.
The hotel’s rooms are designed to reflect the influences of Native American and Art Deco design found both outside and inside the tower. Furnishings, including headboards, light fixtures, pillows, and other accents, all reflect the vibe of what First National was in the 1930s, while featuring modern amenities.
Located on the third floor, the hotel features a 900-square-foot Presidential Suite featuring a large dining table, high ceilings, and multiple adjoining rooms with a door that opens to views of the Great Banking Hall.
New guests should be amazed upon entering the Great Banking Hall, which consists of 14 marble and stone columns leading up to an ornate ceiling and glass skylight.
Four large murals cross the hall from each of its corners. Painted by Edgar Spier Cameron of Chicago, each scene depicts stories from the city’s Native American and frontier history.
The skylight above the two-storey Great Banking Hall and the beacon at the top of the tower are fitted with an array of multi-coloured LED lights, with the lighting in the hall can be programmed to change according to the music being played.
Photo gallery:First National bars, cafes and shops take shape
The original bank counters, 42 cashier doors, are now the backdrop to Tellers, one of two restaurants opening with the hotel on Tuesday. The restaurant will offer interpretations of regional Italian cuisine, Neapolitan pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven, locally sourced vegetables and steaks cooked on a wood-fired grill.
The Grand Hall, which also opens on Tuesdays, is designed to evoke the ambiance of stately European bars open all day. The bar, in the heart of the Great Banking Hall, will offer espressos accompanied by freshly baked pastries, craft European cocktails such as Italian aperitifs and Spanish gintonicos complemented by antipasti and Neapolitan pizzas from Tellers.
When visiting restaurants, diners can request opera glasses — the uniquely designated brand of The National and part of the Autograph Collection brand — to zoom in and see less obvious architectural details of the room.
Hotel guests will also have exclusive access to the third floor, where gun turret openings lining the east, north and south sides of the former bank lobby, now offer a unique view of the bank lobby. ‘hotel.
“This bank was built in 1931 when Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson were all robbing banks all over the Midwest and in Oklahoma City as well,” Gifford said. “If someone tried to rob the bank, and this bank has never been robbed, these doors would open and they would provide space for the gunmen to concentrate on the bank floor.”
As a result, Gifford said, the bank was never robbed.
“You would have needed 20 to 30 people to do this,” Gifford said.
After:The storied history that led to the rebirth of First National.
It’s these kinds of stories that Gifford trains every employee to make sure they can share with guests throughout their stay. He also hopes to collect new guest stories.
“This building was very special for the city,” Gifford said. “And the stories people tell are what I’m interested in hearing. And hearing these stories, including some of them on tours, brings the building to life.
Steve Lackmeyer started at The Oklahoman in 1990. He is an award-winning journalist, columnist and author who covers downtown Oklahoma City, urban development and the economy for The Oklahoman. Contact him at [email protected] Please support his work and that of other Oklahoman reporters by purchasing a subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.