Six months before the historic Holly Hotel in Holly was nearly engulfed in flames, the historic landmark served as a Christmas winter wonderland movie set for the film “Christmas at the Holly Hotel.”
The Hallmark-style film, produced by Michigan-native Joel Resig, follows a woman returning home for Christmas as she reconnects with her family, embarks on a new career path and falls in love. It first hit theaters and streaming platforms on Nov. 27, and has since been streamed on YouTube more than 500,000 times, said Chrissy Kutlenios, who owns the hotel with her husband, George.
Resig, who has been involved in the production of nearly 30 films, said when he wanted to make a romantic comedy, the perfect filming location instantly came to mind.
“I spoke to so many distributors and every single one of them told me that they could sell the heck out of it (a romantic comedy)… The very first spot that came to mind was the Holly Hotel.
“All I want is to give people an hour and a half where they don’t have to be preached to about religion or politics, or right and wrong,” he said. “Holiday movies are sort of like looking into a snow globe where everything is just nice. Just forget about your life for an hour and a half and watch.”
Resig said he met the Kutlenioses after performing stand-up at the comedy club in the basement of their hotel.
“I shot another film there (the Holly Hotel), just one scene, and it’s a beautiful restaurant,” Resig said. “It’s very historic, quaint. It looks like a Hallmark movie already, so I thought if they’re on board, I’ll do this movie here.”
The filming process only took seven days, five of which was filmed in the hotel. Resig said about 75% of the movie was filmed in the hotel.
Despite the June 21 fire that almost destroyed the hotel, George Kutlenios said he hopes renovations will be completed by summer.
To support the renovations of the hotel and “The Streets of Old Detroit” exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum, which suffered from a flood last year, the museum will host a holiday benefit on Dec. 16 featuring dinner and a movie. There also will be a matinee screening of the film on Dec. 18.
Rebecca Salminen-Witt, chief strategy and marketing officer at the Detroit Historical Museum, saw an advertisement earlier this fall for the movie premiere. When tickets sold out in minutes, she believed the museum would be the perfect location to offer a screening.
When Salminen-Witt met with George Kutlenios to discuss the possibility of hosting a movie screening, the two drew parallels between the hotel and the museum.
“They have an area in the hotel that’s called their arcade and it was inspired by “The Streets of Old Detroit” here at the Detroit Historical Museum way back in the ’70s,” Salminen-Witt said. “We thought, boy, that’s an interesting history that nobody really knows about and maybe we can use that history and turn these couple of screenings into a benefit for for the hotel… and also for ‘The Streets of Old Detroit.’
“We were really excited about that connection and just being able to kind of explore that through these couple of events in December here,” she said.
As a Michigan resident, Resig voiced his strong feelings about staying local. He said he prefers the Midwest lifestyle to that of California.
“There would obviously have been more money for me if I would have made the move out there (to Los Angeles), but I think that there’s more fulfillment here.”
The Kutlenioses founded the hotel 43 years ago. Over the years, the building has been used as a movie set in many films, such as “Mary’s Buttons” and “In the Line of Fire,” and the filming process is always exciting to watch, said Chrissy Kutlenios.
“There’s a scene in the movie where there’s a big high-end dinner party and the president of the United States comes to this dinner party at the Holly Hotel, which is true because President Bush actually came to the Holly Hotel in 1994, and so the movie kind of simulated that whole thing.”
Kutlenios echoed Resig’s sentiment, emphasizing the establishment’s warm and welcoming atmosphere.
“You walk in, and you smell cinnamon and cloves, and the lights, it feels like Christmas,” she said. “The producer of this movie really captured what we’ve always done for 47 years is when you walk in: there’s no TVs, there’s Christmas music, and we say Merry Christmas… It was really nice that he captured those feelings in the movie.”
Chrissy Kutlenios said due to the fire, she misses this year’s Christmas tradition, which had been around for more than 130 years.
“Holly Hotel was that magical place to bring family and friends to gather,” she said. “I so miss those familiar faces that came year after year, with growing families, and quick stories of joy and sometimes sadness. I loved greeting guests as they entered with ‘Merry Christmas,’ and knowing it would echo back with the same spirit and affection it was uttered.
“I miss the anticipation and growing excitement as we hosted grand parties as the year came to a close. There was great satisfaction knowing that the Holly Hotel was a special place that kept Christmas true and close to our hearts. This time of year is about reflection and hope… There is solace for me in knowing that we will have our doors open next holiday season. God willing.”
Tickets for the Dinner and a Movie benefit are $145, and tickets for the Sunday matinee are $10 for Detroit Historical Society members and $20 for nonmembers. Along with the ticket purchase, the museum will be open for exploration.
“We’re going to have the cast and crew from the movie on hand so they’ll be able to mingle with those folks,” Salminen-Witt said. “We’ll have some of our historians here as well, and then they’ll screen the movie and then we’ll do a little question and answer with the cast and crew from the movie.”
In addition to supporting the hotel and a local film, Salminen-Witt said she hopes the screenings will bring new people into the museum.
“The real opportunity is to get to broaden our audience at the Historical Museum… the history that is here in this museum is relevant to this whole region,” she said. “Expanding that audience is really important to us and we just hope that we get a whole new bunch of people who either rediscover the museum or maybe even discover it for the very first time.”
‘Christmas at the Holly Hotel’ special screenings
Dinner and a movie benefit for the Holly Hotel Arcade and Streets of Old Detroit at the Detroit Historical Museum
5401 Woodward, Detroit
Detroit Historical Museum
5:30-9 p.m. Dec. 16
For tickets, visit 1066.blackbaudhosting.com/1066/Christmas-at-the-Holly-Hotel-Film-Screening
‘Christmas at the Holly hotel’ matinee
2-4 p.m. Dec. 18