Chip and Joanna Gaines in their biggest fixer upper to date: Hotel 1928. (Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Network)
The Hotel 1928 recently opened in downtown Waco. (Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Network)
Checking in to Hotel 1928 is a throwback experience. (Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Network)
A room fit for a king at Hotel 1928.(Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Network)
The Hotel 1928 library. (Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Network)
Chip and Joanna partnered with AJ Capital Partners founder Ben Weprin. (Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Network)
The hotel features a café and two restaurants, including Bertie's on the Rooftop. (Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Network)
Joanna and Chip in an informal chat with the press.
Hotel 1928 honors legendary Texas author Larry McMurtry. (Photo by Tarra Gaines)
A touch of Chip Gaines humor hangs in the hotel.
Chip and Joanna Gaines work alongside AJ Capital Partners to bring their vision of Hotel 1928 to life in Waco.
WACO — When does reserving a suite at what’s becoming Texas’ most famous boutique hotel also give discerning guests spoilers for one of television’s hottest home improvement shows? When you check in to Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Hotel 1928, of course.
Waco’s design and renovation royalty — and founders of the Magnolia TV empire — recently opened the doors of Hotel 1928 and PaperCity was there for a sneak preview stay. The Gaineses tend to embrace the history and story of any fixer-upper they restore. And the former Grand Karem Shrine Building in the heart of downtown Waco certainly makes for an epic renovation tale for their Magnolia channel (which streams on Max) while also becoming a memorable luxe hotel experience for Texas travelers.
Hotel 1928’s Grand Texas History
Originally commissioned by the Waco Shriners and designed by Dallas architects H. Greene, E. LaRoche and G. Dahl in a Spanish Revival style, the Grand Karem opened in 1928. For nearly a century the building became its own kind of community hub for Waco, filled with meetings, galas, philanthropy and social events. It even survived the 1953 tornado that destroyed much of the city’s growing downtown. By the mid-1990s however, the building was sold to the county and seldom used.
With so many true Texas stories embedded in that brick and mortar, it’s little wonder the history and resilience of the building caught Chip Gaines’ eye back in 2018.
Now as they unveil Hotel 1928 for guests and as their new show Fixer Upper: The Hotel, it becomes apparent how much Chip and Joanna Gaines were influenced by that history and especially its Texas twist on roaring 1920s energy.
While some might equate the Magnolia brand with shiplap and farmhouse design, I tend to think of Joanna Gaines as the woman who brought Round Top Antiques Show chic to the rest of the world. She understands that antiquing thrill of discovery. She also gives us all guidance on layering those worn, beautiful finds together in a room to create unique homes.
For Hotel 1928, Gaines and her design team take that Round Top chic to magnificent heights. From the transom windows to the terrazzo floors to the Moorish-style beam work and arches, when I walked through the doors, I felt like I had traveled back a century to a 1920s New York hotel somehow transported to the banks of (or at least a few blocks away from) the Brazos River.
With only 33 rooms, Hotel 1928 has an exclusive air about it. Sometimes literally as the Magnolia team created a signature Hotel 1928 candle fragrance that breathes a subtle scent of sandalwood, Texas cedar and jasmine throughout all the public spaces.
My room featured a king sized bed so deep, I almost needed a step stool to climb into it, a plush couch to sprawl on and look out the large windows onto the Waco skyline and what seemed like miles of marble tile and gold finishes in the immense bathroom.
The rooms and suites maintains that 1920s ambiance balanced with 21st century high tech comfort, from discrete power ports embedded into the bespoke bedside tables to bluetooth speakers that resemble a classic radio to brass dimmers on every light.
Yet, with a grand ballroom, two restaurants, a cafe, a gift shop and a two-story library, the hotel also possess a multitude of public spaces to welcome Waco visitors and residents. Even if all the rooms are booked, one can still enjoy a celebratory dinner at the Hotel 1928 Brasserie, a casual lunch or evening drinks on the terrace of Bertie’s on the Rooftop or to take that Hotel 1928 Cafe cappuccino down to the library for some alone time relaxing.
Though situated in the building’s former coal chute, the Gaineses have made the library the crown jewel of the hotel with two winding staircases, wall-length bookcases and cozy nooks to curl up and read. The library is the perfect place to spend a few hours relaxing, but it also opens a book on some rich Texas history.
Grand Texas Stories
During the renovation process, Joanna Gaines told Chip to buy a lot of books to fill this dream library. In true Chip Gaines style, he decided to buy an entire bookstore and not just any bookstore. He went back to his parent’s hometown of Archer, Texas and purchased Pulitzer Prize winning author and Texas legend Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up. One of the funniest moments of Fixer Upper: The Hotel is watching Joanna Gaines’ reaction when she first sees those hundreds of thousands Booked Up books they now own.
Larry McMurty gets his own desk in the library laid out with his actual antique typewriter, books and a globe.
During an informal meet and greet, Joanna Gaines talked about the genesis of the project. When I asked her what came first the idea to open a hotel or the idea to do something with such a historical structure in downtown Waco, I phased it as a chicken and egg question.
“Chip is the chicken and the egg,” Gaines immediately shoy back with a laugh. But in this case Chip Gaines’ interest in the Karem building came first.
On the show and in person, Chip and Joanna Gaines credit their friendship with AJ Capital Partners founder and CEO Ben Weprin as giving them the inspiration and expertise to get into the hotel business. AJ Capital Partners owns several hotel portfolios including Marine & Lawn Hotels & Resorts in Scotland and Graduate Hotels in college towns across the United States with Austin and Dallas hotels in the works. They now co-own Hotel 1928 with the Gaineses and serve as operator. When the Gaineses were deciding how large of an renovation project they wanted to do with the former Grand Karem, Weprin helped them see its potential grandeur as a hotel.
He becomes something of a breakout guest star in a few episodes of the TV show as he video conferences in advice and support.
In the end, the Gaineses seem to see Hotel 1928 as another way to bring people to Waco while telling some good true Texas stories.
“This town rallies together,” Joanna Gaines says. “That’s what drew Chip and I here. In the 1990s when we both went to Baylor, when all our friends left, something in us said ‘Plant your roots here.’
“There’s something special about this town, this community. We felt that when we started our originally businesses. We just felt that support. Waco’s that town that’s quirky. It’s got stories, but there’s also this strength about it. If we can be a small part of unearthing what’s good and what was intended for this place originally, that’s a huge honor for us.”