When Claire Creppel was a girl, she would ride the St. Charles Avenue streetcar with her mother from their home on St. Andrew Street across Uptown New Orleans.

That’s when she first noticed the Columns Hotel and admired the grand columns and the deep, open-air gallery, shaded by a lush oak tree.

“I loved everything about it,” said Claire.

The Columns was on her mind ever since, and when the hotel went up for sale in 1980, Claire and her husband Jacques purchased the property.

But the history of this beloved locale goes back much further.

On Wednesday, The Columns Hotel will celebrate its 100th anniversary as an open house. “The Columns As You Know It,” a title coined by Claire, will include $3 drinks, along with hors d’oeuvres and live music.

Guests are invited to peruse historical photos that are on display documenting the hotel’s evolution.

Designed by New Orleans architect Thomas Sully, the Italianate-style Columns was built as a private home in 1883 for Simon Hernsheim, a wealthy tobacco merchant.

Over time, changes were made, including covering the columns. In 1915, the residence became a boarding house known as The Alcion, and the soaring columns that were once encased were again revealed. In 1953, the stately structure was finally transformed into The Columns Hotel.

Evoking classic Southern elegance, the hotel has been the setting for numerous films, including the 1978 film, “Pretty Baby,” starring a very young and sultry Brooke Shields.

A dulcet pink cocktail created in her honor, the Pretty Baby, is still served today.

When the Creppels purchased the property, the first floor was only bedrooms. To conserve energy, the high ceilings had been dropped by the previous owners. Claire realized that restoring the residence to its original grandeur would be an enormous undertaking.

“The first thing I tried to do was get a liquor license. I knew that would help finances,” she said. But obtaining the license elicited anger from the neighbors, who worried about “drunks hanging out in the yard” and launched a lawsuit against the Creppels.

“We won the suit, saying this is a hotel and we have the right to have services,” said Claire. She also put the hotel on the National Register of Historic Places, so that it would be protected.

“We have not changed (the building),” said Claire. “You feel it as soon as you walk in.”

Eventually, the first floor bedrooms were converted into dining and lounge areas. But the second and third floor suites contain an eclectic mix of antique furniture pieces and old-fashioned bath tubs resting on claw feet.

A majestic mahogany stairwell leads to a stained glass skylight.

The opulent Victorian Lounge, which was once the family dining room, features a mahogany bar, a paneled mahogany ceiling imported from Honduras, 15-foot ceilings, solid mahogany pocket doors, a stained glass window and brass foot presses that were used to request dining service.

The original chandelier was packaged away in shoeboxes, but the Creppels had it pieced back together, refurbished, and set in the lounge.

“Right when we opened the bar, it was standing room only,” said Claire.

The Columns Hotel now offers breakfast and a limited bistro menu, along with a popular Sunday brunch. Guests can enjoy live music — from Brazilian and zydeco, to jazz and classical guitar — on a daily basis.

“The gallery is a huge attraction,” said Jacques of the shaded, outdoor veranda. “Everyone wants to be out there, enjoying the fresh air and watching the streetcars go by.”

People arrive from all over the planet, including celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, and the Jolie-Pitts.

One evening, Rod Stewart sat at the end of the bar and serenaded his fellow patrons with “Maggie May.” Then there was the time that Michael Jordan dropped in for a drink via stretch limo and left with a “go cup” when he failed to find a seat.

But The Columns Hotel is, and always has been, a hideaway for locals.

“It’s the kind of place that people fall in love with,” said Claire.

She noted that many young couples first stop by Superior Grill, across the street, before visiting The Columns. And their change in demeanor upon arrival is apparent.

“They go over there and they are rowdy,” Claire said, with a laugh. “As soon as they walk into The Columns, they start acting right. They feel like they’re at their grandma’s house, I suppose.”

TIME LINE

1883 – A private home, called the “Hernsheim House,” is built for Simon Hernsheim.

1915 – A hurricane hits New Orleans and knocks the cupola of the “Hernshiem House.” The house becomes known as “The 1915 Hurricane.”

1915 – The private residence is converted into the Alcion Boarding House.

1953 – The building becomes a public hotel – The Columns Hotel.

1978 – “Pretty Baby,” featuring Brooke Shields, is filmed at the hotel.

1980 – Claire and Jacques Creppel purchase The Columns Hotel

2005 – Hurricane Katrina hits, causing extensive wind damage. A total of $2 million is spent on restoration. Central air systems are installed in each of the 20 guestrooms. The dropped ceiling in the Tea Room is removed; the artwork on the same ceiling is repaired.

2015 – The Columns Hotel celebrates 100 Years of Open House.