State College

‘Community’s living room.’ Graduate State College opens in former Atherton Hotel

New hotel celebrates rich history of Penn State

Harry Jones, the general manager of the Graduate Hotel State College, talks about new hotel that has renovated the space that was formerly the Atherton Hotel.
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Harry Jones, the general manager of the Graduate Hotel State College, talks about new hotel that has renovated the space that was formerly the Atherton Hotel.

Entering Graduate State College is like walking into a central Pennsylvania time capsule with a decidedly chic feel.

And that’s exactly what Graduate is going for, nostalgia with a modern twist.

From the former Atherton Hotel at 125 S. Atherton St., “everything has changed, essentially,” said Graduate State College General Manager Harry Jones. Everything has been designed “to capture the new and the old of State College and to celebrate our rich history.”

Graduate Hotels, owned by AJ Capital Partners, bought the Atherton Hotel in October 2018, and spent three months between May and September renovating “round-the-clock,” Jones said. The boutique hotel chain has 29 locations in college towns across the country, with each location molded to fit the style and needs of that community, he said.

In the lobby, eclectic patterned wallpaper catches your eye, but it’s really the two grand salons — each fitted with enormous, glittering chandeliers preserved from Graduate’s days as the Atherton Hotel — that showcase the meeting of old and new. One lobby room can be closed off as a private cocktail gathering room, while the other is always open to the public, Jones said.

The hotel boasts 150 rooms, a ballroom, an executive boardroom, a meeting room, a cafe, two large gathering rooms, a fitness center and an outdoor fire pit. Total meeting space is over 5,000 square feet and the hotel can host events with up to 300 guests.

The Graduate State College offers Poindexter Coffee. Abby Drey

So much of the Graduate’s style is meant to evoke the Pennsylvania Dutch influence on the State College area, Jones said, from the concierge desk resembling a blanket chest — “my gram had one,” he says — to the plaid runners and dust ruffles on every bed.

And if you’re looking closely, there’s many nods to Penn State, from the footballs meticulously carved into every headboard to the Nittany Lion-inspired floor lamps in every room and displays from old Penn State yearbooks. Even the bathroom wallpaper — hand-drawn ice cream cones — is a nod to Penn State’s Berkey Creamery.

“State College gives off such traditional, old-school collegiate energy and design throughout the hotel speaks to this undeniable school spirit,” said Andrew Alford, chief creative officer at Graduate Hotels, in a press release. “Guests will enjoy a distinct color palette and warmth that evokes an immediate sense of nostalgia.”

On the building’s exterior, Graduate Hotels is commissioning murals by several local artists. The open air front-entrance, which features a car pull-around leading to the parking garage, will be fitted with glass windows for a “storefront” look, said Steve Kehm, director of capital projects for AJ Capital Partners.

Graduate State College also wants its guests and patrons to know its commitment to the community. The company is donating 3% of total direct property bookings to Penn State’s dance marathon and are sponsoring several Thon-related events, Jones said.

The lobby lounge at the Graduate State College offers small sitting areas, a large community table, and books welcome for guests to read. Abby Drey

Another facet of community involvement is making the hotel a space for all community members to gather, he said.

“We are so excited to welcome the community, students, to come in and hang out,” he said. “We essentially want to become the community’s living room. In a couple of weeks we want this place to be packed with students, studying, grabbing a cup of coffee, crunching for a homework assignment ... or just grabbing a cocktail and hanging out.”

Graduate Hotels’ signature cafe Poindexter is open to the community to grab breakfast, lunch or dinner, and also serves coffee, cocktails and other alcoholic beverages. The cafe is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 6 a.m. until midnight or 2 a.m. on weekends, Jones said.

Many of the hotel’s first guests during Penn State football’s season opener against Idaho were guests who had stayed in the Atherton or veteran football fans, he said.

“We’re excited to earn some new repeat guests through the whole process,” he said.