As a lover of architecture, visiting the West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick, Indiana, is always a pleasure. Walking into the atrium area never gets old, even though the style and theming are - but in the best possible way. With each visit, I strive to learn more about the property, and, on my most recent, I discovered the Angel Room. Both the history and lack of are fascinating, as is how to access it. Here’s the scoop behind the angelic story.
West Baden Springs Hotel: A Quick History
Built right around the turn of the 20th Century in 1902, the property boasts a massive 246 guest rooms and suites, including 40 rooms with an indoor balcony that I’ve personally had the pleasure of calling home for a couple of nights (and definitely worth the upgrade as the view of the atrium area is stunning at night.) A National Historic Landmark, it’s a property that anyone who loves architecture should see in their lifetime at least once.
If the well-appointed guest rooms, high-ranked public golf course, or Sunken Gardens don’t make you want to hop in the car and see them for yourself, the on-property amenities like surrey bike rentals, complimentary rail train ride to and from the French Lick Resort (its sister property), and self-guided walking tour of the property will.
When I visit, I like to imagine the entrance road filled with horses and buggies, women in bustling dresses, and men in their finest suits promenading around the gardens and race track (yep, there was one as well!) But I always come back to the “Eighth Wonder of the World” - the dome.
Domed in Perfection
Two hundred feet tall and free-spanning, its construction deserves its own time in the spotlight, certainly. But it’s what’s inside the top of the dome that’s even more fascinating, the Angel Room. In the center of the dome sits a large, flat disc, and the room is directly above it. And while I’d love for it to be easily accessible, you do need to have strict permission (it’s not open to the public) and a love of heights to see it in person.
First, you’d need to take a six-story trip in the elevator. Next, after an ascend up a ladder to the rooftop. And here’s where it might get a little gamey for you: it’s another climb up a skinny ladder and onto ropes to guide you over the dome, where you’re able to descend into the 16-foot wide, 10-foot tall room made of wood.
Angel Room Details
Called The Angel Room simply because of the paintings; each of its eight metal panels offers a different heavenly perspective. Nearly impossible to restore due to the medium they were painted on, a few have graffiti which hurts my heart. Art historians believe that the works of Fra Angelico, a 15th Century artist from Italy, inspired the paintings.
It’s anyone’s guess who painted the murals, but there have been a few ideas. Some think it may have been some of the men that helped build the dome in the late 1800s. Another theory believes they may have been painted in 1920 when the circus literally came to town and hosted shows inside the building. And another offers the angelic paintings were created by workers from the Cassini Tile Company in 1917 when they stayed at the hotel for a renovation.
There is some good news, however. Even though we can’t get into the dome to see the paintings firsthand, directly behind the Atrium is an homage to the murals and Angel Room with beautifully-photographed images that showcase their colors and texture.