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Can You Tell What These Hotels Used to Be?

It's always a bit sad to see a centuries-old structure demolished to rebuild something brand new. What is exciting then is when ancient buildings are adaptively reused. These gorgeous hotels available for bookings via HotelTonight each have a historic past life. Can you guess what each one was?

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Ovolo WoolloomoolooCourtesy Ovolo Woolloomooloo

Ovolo Woolloomooloo, Sydney

This funky hotel with a remarkable name is housed in a heritage building located on the site of the very first fish market in Sydney and a historic wool-processing center, each dating back to the late 19th-century. History buffs will love knowing that the wharf views they are enjoying were once seen by new migrants entering Australia in this exact spot, as well as where loved ones said goodbye to troops being deployed for both World Wars. After sitting abandoned for over two decades, the Woolloomooloo is now a part of the Ovolo hotel chain.

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union station hotelCourtesy HotelTonight

Union Station Hotel, Nashville

OK, so its name gives a big hint. This neo-Romanesque former train station was in operation from 1900 to 1979, serving passengers arriving in Nashville on eight different railroads as well as coming and going on local streetcars. Today, the landmark hotel still features the stunning 65-foot high stained glass ceiling in its lobby and vintage rooms that received a complete vintage makeover in 2016. A hotel since 1986, the stunning Union Station has been a Marriott Autograph Collection property since 2012. Nashville’s Union Station Hotel is pretty retro, but check out some of the most retro hotels in America.

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courthouse hotel shoreditchCourtesy HotelTonight

Courthouse Shoreditch, London

This trendy London East End hotel straddling the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets was the Old Street Magistrates’ Court and Police Station from 1903 until 1996. Today, guests can sip beverages in a former prison cell that has been transformed into a VIP room or have dinner in what was Courthouse Number 1. This may be the only Grade II listed Baroque-styled building in the world to feature a bowling alley and private 196-seat cinema on site, but it’s not the only luxe hotel that used to be a jail.

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the libertyCourtesy HotelTonight

The Liberty, Boston

Built in 1851, this national historic landmark at the foot of Beacon Hill was once considered one of the best examples of the “Boston Granite Style” of the mid-19th century. Before guests were sinking into comfortable sheets and sipping on posh drinks at The Liberty, some of Boston’s most infamous criminals were spending time here behind bars when this imposing stone structure was the less luxurious Charles Street Jail. The final prisoners were moved out in 1990 and since then, the building has been transformed with gusto and imagination into a luxurious Marriott hotel. Historical tours of the hotel are available for curious guests.

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orderbergerCourtesy HotelTonight

Hotel Oderberger, Berlin

This posh boutique hotel was built in the early 1900s as a public bathhouse. In 2016, it was restored with careful detail to feature 70 elegant guest rooms, two apartments, and five tower suites but the unquestioned jewel of the Oderberger is the glorious historic indoor swimming hall with a sauna for guests interested in a deep soak into the local culture and history of Berlin. Here are more of our favorite extravagant hotel pools around the world.

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ace hotel LACourtesy HotelTonight

Ace Hotel, Los Angeles

Completed in 1927, this 13-story building in downtown L.A. was, for a year, the tallest in the City of Angels. Its Spanish Gothic style was patterned after the Segovia Cathedral in Spain and remains a wildly imaginative, highly ornate place to spend a night. The space beside the hotel itself was once the flagship theater for the United Artists movie studio and is now one of the coolest concert venues in the world, operating under the name the Theatre at Ace Hotel. The 182 rooms of the Ace Hotel exemplify a bohemian, electric flair for the dramatic while the rooftop bar and Jacuzzi pool are trendy spots to hang and spot celebs.

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Union station hotel st louisCourtesy HotelTonight

St. Louis Union Station Hotel, St. Louis

Once again, the name gives it away but what you may not know is that this massive, 567 room Curio Collection hotel by Hilton has one of the most impressive lobbies in the world. It is the hotel’s crown jewel with a 65-foot barrel vaulted ceiling that was once the train station’s Grand Hall. Today guests can gaze up to watch the breathtaking Fire and Light Show, complete with a 100-foot waterfall, lights, and flames being fired off into the air, all set to music. Back in 1894, Union Station welcomed its first train into the gateway to the west and traffic only picked up from there through the 1904 World’s Fair and WWII with upwards of 100,000 passengers, including presidents and famous actors and athletes passing through St. Louis’ railway hub, until the final passenger train departed on Halloween, 1978.

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pestana amsterdam riversideCourtesy HotelTonight

Pestana Amsterdam Riverside, Amsterdam

This Neo Dutch Renaissance building was built between 1889 and 1892 and once housed the former Town Hall until 1914 and the Archive of the Amstel Community through 2007. Now, there’s a swanky 5-star hotel set inside this National Monument with 154 rooms that tower high above De Pijp, Amsterdam’s hip bohemian neighborhood.

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the publishing houseCourtesy HotelTonight

The Publishing House, Chicago

You’ll find this stylish 11-suite bed and breakfast housed in the former Free Methodist Publishing House along Chicago’s West Loop, surrounded by fine dining and exhilarating nightlife. Originally built in 1909, the historic building was re-imagined as a luxurious hotel in 2017. “Each of the en suite guest rooms at Publishing House are named with Chicago literary references, such as Cisneros, Bellow, and Everleigh, a nod to Karen Abbott’s book, Sin in the Second City,” reports Crain’s. No more books are being produced here anymore but chilling out in one of the suites cool hanging swing chairs with a good book is a perfect way to unwind after a day exploring the Windy City.

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Amrâth-Kurhaus-The-Hague-ScheveningenCourtesy HotelTonight

Grand Hotel Amrâth Kurhaus The Hague Scheveningen, The Hague Netherlands

This palatial five-star seaside hotel is just steps from the beaches of the North Sea, but before it welcomed guests into its 265 stately rooms, the monumental building got its start in 1818 as a grand concert hall, which remains intact to this day. The Grand Hotel Amrâth Kurhaus has a spectacular concert hall, but check out these old-fashioned hotel features you won’t see anymore.

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chicago athletic associationCourtesy HotelTonight

Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Chicago

The Chicago Athletic Association was founded in 1890 by some of Chicago’s wealthiest men, including Marshall Field, Cyrus McCormick, A.G. Spalding (sporting goods company and also co-founder of baseball’s National League), and William Wrigley. Today, a speakeasy-style game room and a rooftop restaurant highlight this sophisticated old world hotel housed in the former—surprise!—Chicago Athletic Association building which has a prime location just steps away from Millennium Park and the Cloud Gate. Those who love hidden rooms will want to check out the best speakeasies hidden inside hotels.

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rivalCourtesy HotelTonight

Hotel Rival, Stockholm Sweden

It makes perfect sense that this chic Stockholm hotel is owned by Benny Andersson of ABBA because before the Hotel Rival welcomed guests to its 99 rooms as the Scandinavian country’s first boutique hotel in 2003, it began life in 1937 as a cinema and entertainment center. Some of the original art-deco inspired, 1930s décor has remained post-renovation, as has the 700-seat cinema, which played host to the Swedish premiere of the movie Mamma Mia. Expect to find minimalist decorated hotel rooms perked up with fun flair like “a teddy bear here, an ABBA wall mural there”. Got bit by the travel bug? Add these 25 unique and strange hotels around the world to your bucket list.

Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.