Today in History: The Onondaga Hotel Opens

Onondaga Hotel

On August 20th, 1910, the Onondaga Hotel opened in Syracuse at the corner of South Warren and East Jefferson streets. The architect was the Buffalo firm of Esenwein & Johnson.  Their design utilized many details of Classical Revival, especially evident in the lobby. This distinctive space included a two-story atrium, ringed with a mezzanine balustrade and lit by a skylight. The elegant, 11-story hotel was expanded in 1915 to reach 500 rooms, reportedly making it the largest hotel in the state outside of New York City. The hotel included several notable sections, such as the Ball Room, Louis XV Room, Hiawatha Room, Old English Inn, and the Roof Garden. The Roof Garden, added during the 1915 expansion to the hotel, was a rooftop restaurant featuring large windows that provided a breathtaking view over the city. The restaurant also included an outdoor dining terrace and played host to dancing in the evenings.

Barber Shop, Onondaga Hotel, 1937The Onondaga Hotel’s public spaces became local landmarks. By the 1940s, it boasted three famous dining spots: the casual Dickens Room, the sophisticated Travel Room and the unique Roof Garden restaurant, where one could enjoy their meal, and then dance 12 floors above the lights of the city. The Dickens Room was a 1934 remodeling that served as a café or informal dining area. It featured decorated mirrors with scenes reflecting the England of Charles Dickens’ time.  It was accessible either from the lobby or directly outside from Jefferson Street. The Onondaga Hotel also had its own barber shop (left).

All were ultimately lost when the hotel was demolished in 1970 to make way for a new office building.

The hotel’s first registered guest was vaudeville star Lew Dockstader. Other famous visitors included Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, and Babe Ruth.

— Dan and Dennis Connors of the OHA