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Brown Hotel at 100: Meet the people who make it possible

The Brown Hotel is a historic staple of downtown Louisville.
J. Tyler Franklin
The Brown Hotel is a historic staple of downtown Louisville.

For 100 years, the Brown Hotel has welcomed guests from across the country and the world. Long-time employees are part of the local hotel’s success.

When guests at the Brown Hotel need help with event set-up, they don’t ask for a department. They ask for Rick Turney, a banquet set-up supervisor. Turney has worked at the Brown for 35 years.

“It's fun. It's so good,” Turney said.

Turney’s good work extends beyond the events departments.

A few years ago, a guest lost some important personal documents during his stay. Turney was on the case. After an initial search yielded nothing, he kept going.

“I went around and looked on [a kitchen cart], what they put the dishes on, and that wasn’t there neither so I said ‘Oh, I'm gonna go down and look down in the kitchen,’” Turney said.

That’s where Turney found them.

“He said ‘Oh, thank you so much for having my papers. You've been so much of a big help. I'm gonna tell everybody about you that you saved me,” Turney said.

Businessman J. Graham Brown opened the hotel on Oct. 25, 1923, after six months of construction. It had 600 rooms, ballrooms, meeting spaces and restaurants. Its location at the intersection of 4th Street and Broadway was deemed “The Magic Corner,” which would later be the setting for the creation of the now-famous Hot Brown.

While the sandwich might be the most famous thing to come out of the Brown, many celebrities have made it their hotel of choice while visiting Louisville. Stars like Joan Crawford and Elizabeth Taylor, politicians like Presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter, and Louisville boxing legend Muhammad Ali have all checked in there.

In its 100 years of operation, the Brown has survived the Great Depression, World War II, the Ohio River Flood of 1937, prohibition and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each time welcoming people guests through its doors

Mariyam Kikinadze has worked in the housekeeping department for 18 years. Returning guests used to ask to stay on floors where Kikinadze was responsible for cleaning.

Now, in her role as a housekeeping inspector, people continue to ask to stay in rooms with Kikinadze's seal of approval.

During her time there, she has built close connections with her coworkers.

“Because almost we work here all day in the eight, nine [hours] all together,” Kikinadze said. “We work like one family, every time [you] need something [there’s] help.”

Brown Hotel credit manager Robin Sinkfield said it’s the hard work of staffers like Turney and Kikinadze that has helped with the hotel’s longevity.

“The service is historic,” Sinkfield said. “Our goal is 100% satisfaction for everybody. That's our goal.”

While the hotel has gotten technological updates over the years, managers have tried to stay true to its original design and commitment to customer service.

She started working at Brown in 1995, and said she feels the same today as when she walked in on her first day.

“It's just the beauty of the place and that has been kept. I don't know, it's just a feel. I don't know how to put words to it,” Sinkfield said. “The service and the feel of the hotel are the same.”

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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