Brown Hotel

The Brown Hotel is an historic 16-story hotel in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., located on the corner of Fourth and Broadway. It contains 293 rooms and over 24,000 ft² of meeting space. It also contains special amenities, such as a fitness center and three restaurants. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


The hotel was designed by Preston J. Bradshaw and opened in 1923, only 10 months after construction began. The hotel cost $4 million, and was funded and owned by James Graham Brown, a local entrepreneur. The hotel quickly became a central part of the growing downtown Louisville economy.

In 1926 the hotel chef Fred K. Schmidt introduced the Hot Brown sandwich, consisting of an open-faced "sandwich" of turkey and bacon smothered with cheese and tomato. The Hot Brown became rather popular among locals and visitors alike, and can be ordered at many local restaurants in the area today. The sandwich was featured on the 2002 PBS documentary Sandwiches That You Will Like.

Many famous people visited the hotel in its early years. David Lloyd George former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was the first person to sign the guest register, and Queen Marie of Romania also visited. The famous soprano Lily Pons was allowed to bring her pet lion along with her, and it roamed free in her room. In an odd coincidence, actor Victor Mature was an elevator operator at the hotel before becoming famous.

The combination of Prohibition and the Great Depression led to hard times for the hotel in the early 1930s. The Brown defaulted on its loan, and the bank threatened foreclosure. Employees were asked to work for periods without pay, and the Brown was only able to stay open due to the employees' willingness to do so.

When the 1937 Flood hit Louisville, the Brown's first floor was flooded. Although there was no electricity, the hotel stayed open, and many people whose homes were submerged stayed at the hotel. One resident recalled: "We were rowing down Broadway and there was The Brown Hotel. The doors were open and the place was filled with water so we just rowed our boat in one door, went through the lobby and rowed out another." A worker is recorded to have caught a two-pound fish in the lobby. WAVE radio, located on the 15th floor, was the only radio station to remain in operation in its own facilities during the flood.

Like much of the rest of the nation, economic recovery began in the buildup to World War II. Thousands of soldiers passing through from Fort Knox would stay in the area, and the hotel would frequently be filled to capacity. The week of the Kentucky Derby was the most successful week of every year, and celebrities such as Harry Truman, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford, Gene Autry, Eva Marie Saint, Queen Elizabeth, and Muhammad Ali stayed in the hotel at this time.

As the city declined in the 1960s and 1970s, the fortunes of the Brown declined as well. Though $1.5 million was spent in 1965 to modernize the Brown and another downtown hotel, attendance remained low. Finally, due to financial difficulties, the Brown closed its doors in 1971. The building was sold to the Louisville Public Schools and became the headquarters for the city school system. When Louisville and Jefferson County schools merged in 1975 the new school system used the county schools' VanHoose Education Center as its headquarters and the Brown Education Center housed other school administrative offices.

The city of Louisville began to make many moves to revitalize the downtown area in the 1980s. As part of this project the "Broadway Group" was formed, which acquired The Brown from Jefferson County Public Schools and began its renovation in 1983. The hotel was restored and reopened as a Hilton. In 1993 the hotel was purchased by the Camberley Hotel Company. They, in turn, sold the hotel to 1859 Historic Hotels LTD in the fall of 2006.

The hotel has also been featured in films such as Elizabethtown, starring actor Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst.

It was also seen on a Louisville-themed episode of Man v. Food Nation, where host Adam Richman tried the Hot Brown.