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Common Ground Community
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Common Ground was determined to restore the hotel and the ballroom, but to avoid commemorating the ramshackle past of the Prince George would be to deny a significant part of the building's colorful history. The organization solved this dilemma through the entrance gallery, which was designed by second-year graduate architectural students at the Parsons School of Design through its Design Workshop. The students took 2,500 square feet of rundown storage space to create a separate entrance to the ballroom, so that visitors would not disturb the privacy of the building's tenants. Preserving the original wallpaper, terra cotta, masonry and sheetrock walls in their decrepit condition, they were able to freeze time to show visitors what the hotel looked like before people started caring about it again. "They wanted the sequence to the ballroom to be a kind of narrative of the complex history of the Prince George," says Peter Wheelwright, chair of the architecture department at Parsons. The effect is one of going backwards in time as guests move forward from the entryway to the ballroom. But the students also added a steel mezzanine with a translucent floor to create two floors of gallery space and to elevate visitors to the ornate capitals on the columns. The sheer complexity of the overall design, which comes about through a dialogue between antiquated and ultramodern elements, might serve as a metaphor for the multifaceted history of the hotel.

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For interior designer Jamie Drake, the project became an effort to recreate the renaissance-revival colors and styles popular at the beginning of the 20th century. Working with black-and-white photographs from the early days of the ballroom, Drake created a classic design that restored color to the elegant space. The ceiling, painted a muddy brown during the shabby years of the Prince George, now shines with green, blue, and red hues framing decorative medallions that were recreated from scratch. "It was a great opportunity to create something gorgeous that brought the eye up and highlighted the ceiling," Drake says. Two non-profit organizations worked with Drake to restore much of the interior, including the ceiling, columns, and pilasters. Decorative artists from The Alpha Workshops, which works with people who have HIV/AIDS, and at-risk young adults employed as apprentices for YouthBuild USA helped out with the restoration.

The 4,800-square-foot ballroom, with capacity for 299 guests, opened in June with some finishing touches being applied during the summer. Starting in the fall, the space will be leased out to events such as fundraisers and weddings, with proceeds going to Common Ground. After years of neglect, the grandest part of the Prince George Hotel has finally been rescued out of its misery. While the city continues to evolve, slices of its history refuse to fade away.

See how the ballroom was restored to its historical condition in our web-exclusive image gallery.

 

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