Built in 1897 on the banks of the Ouachita River in downtown Monroe, Hotel Monroe was once a grand place with an elegant salon and lobby featuring massive stone pillars and elaborate ironwork. The 109-room hotel was known as one of the finest places to stay in Louisiana.
Today it is much more than a hotel to visit for a few nights: It’s the home of Nelda and Paul Kidd, who have crafted an amazing residence filled with thousands of books, treasures collected from around the world and fine antiques. “I sometimes marvel at the turn of events that brought us to this point in our lives,” says Nelda, a former antique shop owner and now a volunteer for the Ouachita Parish Library. “It wasn’t a carefully planned move. It just happened when we sold our home and needed to move within two months.”
The Kidds thought moving into the old Hotel Monroe was a good, quick solution. The couple acquired the historic three-story building as part of their purchase of the adjoining eight-story Hotel Penn in 1978. At the time of the purchase, the old Hotel Monroe building was part of Hotel Penn.
“When we bought the hotel, we moved into the penthouse on the ninth-level rooftop,” Nelda says and then adds with a smile: “The romance of being hoteliers didn’t last long. I still wonder what we were thinking when we purchased the property. We knew nothing about running a hotel, and we soon learned it was a money pit.”
When the couple sold Hotel Penn to the Ouachita Parish Police Jury in 1998, they kept the old Hotel Monroe building. “I had already converted part of the old building to my law office,” says Paul, a noted civil rights attorney. “When we needed a quick place to live, I moved my law office into another building and we converted the old Hotel Monroe to our home.”
The temporary move turned out to be permanent. “We just never got around to moving again,” Paul says. “There is so much to love about this building, especially my library with three walls of shelves that are full of my law books. Yes, I know I can now read everything in the books online, but I still enjoy being surrounded by them.” And though Nelda dreams of someday building a house in the country, she says there is much to like about her hotel-cum-house: “It’s a wonderful home with high ceilings, tall windows and lots of space, not to mention that we overlook the Ouachita River that has often been called the most beautiful small river in America.”
Today the once-grand salon and lobby of Hotel Monroe is one large living area divided into four distinct spaces for sitting, reading, listening to music and dining. Four matching chandeliers further define the spaces. Then there’s Paul’s library; three bedrooms; two bathrooms (still with the vintage “men” and “women” signs on the doors left over from Hotel Monroe); a sunny breakfast room; a well-equipped kitchen; plenty of closets; and a large rear patio surrounded by lush trees, shrubs and a vegetable garden. “Look at that okra!” Nelda proudly exclaims as she points toward the staked 6-foot-high okra plants. “It is growing like Jack’s beanstalk in the nursery rhyme.”
Nelda says: “First-time guests always ask, ‘What’s on the second and third floors?’ and I tell them it’s completely vacant, where the ghosts of the past live and an occasional pigeon finds its way inside. The original handsome hammered-tin ceiling remains on the second floor, as well as other interesting architectural features, while the third floor still has evidence that it was once a laundry for Hotel Penn.”
Old Hotel Monroe –– also known as the Kidd residence –– is a unique part of downtown Monroe that is undergoing a residential revival with the conversion of Hotel Penn to high-end condominiums and other old buildings being reclaimed for apartments and condominiums. “We never meant to be forerunners in the revival of downtown Monroe,” Nelda says with an air of pleasure. “We just moved into Paul’s old law office as a stopgap measure, and much to my surprise, we found a wonderful, comfortable home where we have remained.”