Hotel removes portraits of Robert E. Lee and George Washington

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) -- A historic hotel in Virginia has removed a portrait of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from its lobby in the wake of a deadly white nationalist rally earlier this month.

However, hotel staff say the timing of the removal is coincidental.

Hotel Roanoke staff discretely removed portraits of both President George Washington and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the lobby of the hotel last Friday.

The pieces were on loan from the Historical Society of Western Virginia, whose representatives say they were notified of the change after the pieces were removed.

The hotel's general manager, Brian Wells, said the change is part of a larger renovation required by Hilton when Hotel Roanoke became part of the Curio collection.

"Hilton laid out a bunch of project work for the hotel," Wells said. "We're proud to say, much of it has been completed. Every guestroom in the hotel has been renovated. The suites are stunning. The last phase is renovating the public spaces of the hotel including the lobby."

Wells says the initial renovation designs started in mid-2016 with renderings completed in February. They're getting new furniture, lighting and art. The designs focus on a more modern style with gray fabrics and silver accents reminiscent of Roanoke's rail lines and locomotive history.

"I think with the coming of Amtrak, and a new layer of hospitality here in Roanoke, that's the tradition of the hotel. We're excited about the look," Wells said.

The Historical Society of Western Virginia and O. Winston Link Museum will provide art from their collection. Wells has narrowed to a few choices that would highlight Roanoke's rail history.

However, Virginia Tech Foundation President John Dooley said that current events factored into the decision to remove the portrait, which the hotel said was also done as part of an ongoing remodel. The foundation owns the hotel, which was first built by a railway company in 1882.

The Robert E. Lee portrait is back in the museum's storage space, but the hotel still has the Washington painting.

Wells said he's not sure what will happen to the old furniture and fixtures, but the new renovations should be complete by Valentine's Day.

Confederate monuments around the country have been removed following an Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville, where hate groups gathered to protest the city's decision to remove a Lee statue from a city park.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.