In 1921, following an uncomfortable night at a dilapidated Franklin Street boarding house, alumnus John Sprunt Hill decided to build a proper hotel near the university. Hill, already a frequent donor, initially tried to raise money from alumni. When those efforts fell short, he decided to pay for the whole thing himself. Built on land Hill owned near campus, the Carolina Inn opened in late 1924. It was designed by Arthur Nash, the architect responsible for many of the buildings built on campus during the 1920s expansion.
The Carolina Inn quickly became a fixture of campus life, hosting visiting alumni and serving as the de facto site for formal dinners and receptions by campus groups. In 1935 Hill formally transferred ownership to the university with the stipulation that any profits would go to the University Library, in particular the collections devoted to North Carolina (now known as the North Carolina Collection).
While the university began to admit African American students in the 1950s, the Carolina Inn was slower to act. The inn cultivated an "Old South" atmosphere, exemplified by a brochure in use for decades showing on its cover a smiling African American porter ready to open the front door. One of the earliest African Americans to attend a public event at the inn was Martin Luther King Jr., who was a guest at a dinner there during a campus visit in 1960.
Facing growing demand, the inn had significant renovations and additions in the 1940s and 1970s. But it remained a financial headache for the university. By the early 1990s, with the inn losing money, the university decided to lease management to a private company. Another renovation followed, this one bringing the loss of the inn's cafeteria, long a favorite lunchtime spot for local residents and university employees. Even under private management, the inn remained, as UNC System president William C. Friday called it, the "University's living room."
Date Established: 1924
Date Range: 1924 – Present