RALEIGH — In the course of five days this week, a capital city landmark became a pile of rubble as the Velvet Cloak Inn, once Raleigh’s top-notch hotel, was razed to make way for what is to become student housing for NC State University.
Last week, before the wrecking equipment set up shop, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office used the hotel for practice in search and rescue, using battering rams to break down doors and shatter windows. The practice was the first step toward what this week has become a pile of smoking debris and twisted New Orleans-style wrought iron along the 1500 block of Hillsborough Street.
The Velvet Cloak Inn was built in 1962 and had 147 rooms. It was the go-to destination for legislators from the far corners of the state in town for sessions of deal-making over laws at the State Capitol. The hotel also saw its fair share of celebrities through the 1960s and 1970s.
The hotel was designed by Raleigh architect Leif Valand, the same designer of Raleigh’s Cameron Village shopping center and numerous other Raleigh landmarks. It was designed is an Old South style and the name of the hotel was taken from a famous story about the city of Raleigh’s namesake. In the book The Story of Sir Walter Raleigh by Margaret Duncan Kelly, she tells the story of Raleigh dramatically stretching out his velvet cloak over a mud puddle on the banks of the River Thames in London for Queen Elizabeth I as she disembarked from her boat. Queen Elizabeth thanked him, giving him a diamond ring and bringing him into her close circle of attendants. As they came to know each other, Raleigh became a trusted confidante of the queen, and was knighted in 1585.
The name of the hotel was taken from this famous story. In its heyday, the Velvet Cloak Inn had rooms on three sides of the two-and-a-half acre property containing a glass-roofed atrium, a nightclub and a restaurant.
Not just visitors have memories of the historic property. Raleigh natives remember it well as the place to be seen for brunch after services at Raleigh’s downtown churches, sweet bridal luncheons and wedding receptions.The property was purchased in 2004 by David Smoot, selling the units as condos. However in 2008, the city of Raleigh shut the property down citing safety reasons, it continued to fall into disrepair and was finally put back on the market in 2015. It was purchased last year by a company in Atlanta, Peak Campus, that builds multi-use student housing. The plan is to put approximately 150 units that would house 500 students with amenities, a pool and a parking deck.Peak Campus has 30 other similar other properties across the southeast and six in N.C. Their holdings include two Student Quarters complexes at UNC Greensboro, Spring Place at UNC Greensboro and 901 Place and UNC Charlotte.