I woke up this weekend disoriented, trying to make sense of the perfectly round room I was in. And then I remembered: Oh yeah. I'm in a grain silo. In Akron.
I was spending the night at what is surely one of the most unusual hotels in the country: the Quaker Square Inn, carved out of 36 enormous concrete grain silos built in 1932 that used to be part of the Quaker Oats milling complex in downtown Akron, Ohio.
Quaker Oats was founded in Akron in the mid 19th century, and remained headquartered there until the company moved to Chicago in the late 1970's. When they moved, they left behind a lot of infrastructure, including the cluster of silos, each 120 feet tall and 24 feet wide, that had housed 1.5 million bushels of grain. Shortly after the company's departure, a local architectural firm decided to take a lead from the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory in San Francisco, and rallied a group of private investors (including John Travolta, Flip Wilson, Gregory Peck, and Karl Malden) and embarked on what became an $80 million project to convert the silos into a luxury hotel and shopping center. It was an immense undertaking: to create openings for future windows and balconies, workers used 24-inch diamond-tipped blades to slice through the walls, seven solid inches of steel-reinforced concrete. (The project was awarded the Concrete and Sawing and Drilling Association's 1980 award for "Toughest Wall-Sawing Job." Who knew?)
In its heyday, the complex boasted a cocktail lounge, a shopping center, several restaurants, and the world's largest operating model train display in the world. Local sculptor Don Drumm installed concrete sculptures throughout the lobby. In 2007, the University of Akron bought the property and converted the upper floors into student dormitories, leaving just 65 rooms on the first three floors open to the public. Most of the shops have been converted to offices, but the General Store is still open, and there's a vestigial train display still on view. Still, it's definitely more of a curiosity than a luxury experience these days.
My hotel room, one of the 196 originally built into the old silos like cookies stacked in a can, was enormous. At 450 square feet, it dwarfed my Brooklyn apartment. And as you might expect from a room in a nearly 80-year-old grain silo, it had its quirks. The walls were thick and solid; despite the large window, sleeping there was what I imagine staying at an underground bunker in the X-Files might have been like. The perfectly curved walls bounced the sound around, and from the dead center of our room, there was an echo - an effect that my 8-month old daughter particularly enjoyed.
But the old silos were a fine base of operations for exploring some of the great food in the surrounding area. In addition to the myriad old-school eateries in the Akron-Canton area, the Sweet Pea Cafe in nearby Fairlawn, offers a great breakfast (try the mac n' cheese omelet, with basil, tomato, mushroom, chorizo, onion and creamy macaroni and cheese). And at the hotel, there's the Trackside Grille -housed in an old Pullman dining car - open when the U of A's in session.
Quaker Square Inn
135 South Broadway Street
Akron, Ohio 44325