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When is a hotel not just a hotel? When it is repurposed from a building that used to be something completely different. Turning old, oft-abandoned buildings into hotels helps developers feed the increasing demand for idiosyncratic travel experiences. Meanwhile, many of these rehabs end up playing a major role in the revitalization of down-and-out city centers. You’ll never guess what these five hip hotels used to be:

Also: An insider’s guide to the best ofDenver

Charmant Hotel

Photo courtesy of the Charmant Hotel

Charmant Hotel: LaCrosse, WI

Life is like a box of chocolates at the Charmant Hotel. The 67-room luxury boutique hotel has been crafted out of the Joseph B. Funke Chocolate Company, which was in business from 1898 to 1933. Charmant was the premium line of chocolates produced by the Funke-y bunch. Aside from its name, The Charmant preserves and re-imagines architectural details of the original structure, including its wood beams, pulleys, exposed brick and maple floors. If you breathe in deeply, you might even whiff the aroma of molasses seeping out of those old floors. The rooms are highlighted, of course, in chocolate-brown. Remember to make friends at the front desk. The staff there might well indulge your sweet tooth by doling out handcrafted chocolates.

Brewhouse Inn and Suites

Photo courtesy of Brewhouse Inn and Suites

Brewhouse Inn & Suites: Milwaukee, WI

A bed in a brewery? That’s what’s on tap at the Brewhouse Inn & Suites. Transformed from an abandoned Pabst Brewery  (the largest brewer in the world during the first half of the 20th century), the building reflects Milwaukee’s brewing heritage in a heady way. Copper brew kettles from the original factory are lined up on the mezzanine, overseen by King Gambrinus, the patron saint of beer and brewing. His stained-glass likeness was commissioned by Frederick Pabst himself. Speaking of glass, the Brewhouse’s front desk is crafted from 1,550 beer bottles from Milwaukee-based breweries. Reclaimed wood from the factory is used throughout the property, from the headboards in the rooms to the tabletops at Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub.

Refinery Hotel

Photo courtesy of the Refinery Hotel

Refinery Hotel: New York, NY

Hat’s off to Manhattan’s Refinery Hotel (circa 2013), which originally was a high-end millinery factory (circa 1912). Located in New York City’s Garment District (naturally), Refinery Hotel’s design draws on the building’s past with a custom installation of hat-making tools in the lobby. Each guestroom has a slightly raw aesthetic inspired by the original factory, such as concrete ceilings, distressed hardwood floors, custom area rugs, and sewing machines-inspired desks. The hotel’s event space is called, what else, The Hatbox.

Craddock Terry hotel

Photo courtesy of Craddock Terry Hotel

Craddock Terry Hotel: Lynchburg, VA

There’s no business like shoe business at the Craddock Terry Hotel. The Craddock Terry Shoe Company was founded in the late 19th century in Lynchburg, Virginia. At one time, it was the fifth-largest shoe company in the world. At its peak, one factory, which opened in 1905, produced more than 2,500 pairs of women’s shoes per day. That building is what was re-imagined into a hotel by Hal Craddock, the great-grandson of the shoe company founder. In 2007, the Craddock Terry Hotel opened, retaining its original industrial feel, with exposed wood beam ceilings and nine-foot tall windows. What gives the place even more ‘sole’ are that hints of its shoe-making past are everywhere. Whimsical touches include in-room breakfast served in old-fashioned wooden shoe shine boxes and art installations clogged with 100 years of shoes.

Kendall Hotel

Photo courtesy of the Kendall Hotel

Kendall Hotel: Cambridge, MA

What was once a firehouse is now a fine accommodation. The Kendall Hotel is housed in Engine 7Firehouse, a Victorian-style structure built in 1895. The firehouse closed in 1993 and re-opened as a hotel in 2002. The building, the oldest in Kendall Square, has been restored in a manner befitting its heroic past. Its restaurant, the Black Sheep, is named after Engine 7’s self-described Fire Department misfits. Both it and the lobby are filled with firehouse memorabilia and Victoriana. Eleven of the guest rooms are located in what was once the firemen’s dormitory. But don’t worry. If you stay in one of them, you won’t have to exit via a pole.

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Tagged: Hotels

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Laura Powell

Laura Powell

Laura is a 20-year veteran travel journalist. She was CNN's first travel reporter, and has written for publications ranging from Alaska Airlines Magazine to The Washington Post. Find her at the or on Twitter: @dailysuitcase

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