West Baden Springs History 2000-present
Nothing but blue skies from now on
Indiana Landmarks found no success in its campaign to sell the half-restored West Baden Springs Hotel: developers deemed the landmark too large, too remote, too odd for hotel or any other use. A gambling license for the area appeared to be the property’s only hope for renewed economic life. A majority of the county’s residents favored the arrival of a casino in order to save the two historic hotels. Older locals also recalled that gambling casinos had been factor in the area’s success in the first half of the twentieth century.
State Representative Jerry Denbo led campaign for a gaming license in the legislature, backed by the Cooks, Indiana Landmarks and a group of citizen lobbyists known as “The Orange Shirts” for their t-shirts bearing the slogan “Save French Lick and West Baden Springs” worn during their frequent appearances over several years in the State House. The Indiana legislature approved a casino for the area in 2003.
The Indiana Gaming Commission in 2005 awarded the casino contract to Blue Sky, LLC, a joint venture of CFC (a Cook subsidiary) and Lauth Property Group of Indianapolis. The partnership’s contract with the IGC pledged the restoration of both historic hotels in addition to the construction of a casino. Indiana Landmarks' subsidiary HLFI West Baden, Inc. sold the West Baden Springs Hotel to a Cook subsidiary in 2006 for $5, with credit for the millions the Cook family had already invested in its restoration.
Led by Carl Cook, with George Ridgway as supervising architect, the Cook family completed the West Baden Springs Hotel restoration it had begun with Indiana Landmarks ten years earlier. The hotel opened in May 2007, offering overnight accommodations for the first time since 1932. Immediately, the restoration and preservation achievement began winning national awards.
An early, unsubstantiated claim gave West Baden Springs 708 guest rooms; the restoration team put the count at 508 in 1996. When the hotel reopened as a high-end resort in 2007, it offered 246 rooms, enlarged to meet modern expectations. (The original very small rooms satisfied wealthy visitors before queen-sized beds and television, when little time was spent in the rooms).
New features include a porte cochere that extends across the drive on the hotel’s west façade, additional elevators, and a new pool and spa building that is a faithful replica of the property’s long-lost natatorium. A new 18-hole golf course on the hill above West Baden Springs, designed by Pete Dye, will open in 2009 with Mt. Airie, the historic Taggart mansion, as the course clubhouse.
Indiana Landmarks continues to offer guided tours of the West Baden Springs Hotel, a program begun in 1996 with the assistance of local volunteers. It’s a place that must be experienced in person to be fully appreciated.
History of West Baden Springs Hotel
1901-1902: Creating "The Eighth Wonder of the World"
1902-1929: Vacation spot draws elite crowd
1930-1984: Great Depression ushers in college era
1985-1995: Post college years bring vacancy and deterioration
1996-1999: Partial restoration designed to attract buyer
2000-present: Nothing but blue skies from now on