Mason City, Iowa, has the only remaining hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. On the divide between the Larkin Building and the Unity Temple in his Prairie period and Midway Gardens and the Imperial Hotel soon to come, it shares features of each period and predicted the latter in its massing. In gradually deteriorating condition since 1922, the resolution of its present live or die situation is underway in the hands of Wright on the Park, Inc. (WOTP), newly formed to come to its rescue.
In July, 2005, Audra Dye, program director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, brought Royce Yeater, Midwest Director of the National Trust and Bill Morrissey, Past President of Historic Hotels of America together in Mason City to meet with the WOTP Board of Directors. That meeting brought about a new conviction that restoration of Wright’s only remaining hotel and its economic viability are equally important -- A completely historic restoration would be non-viable. A period of intense adjustment to reality followed with on-site meetings with owners and operators of area historic hotels and other consultants. All public spaces must be restored while making the originally tiny guest rooms larger and more luxurious. Guest rooms in the original hotel structure will therefore decrease from 43 to 21 units.
The initial desire to include the City National Bank segment of the original building in the project (It has been under separate ownership since 1926) became a conviction for several reasons. While the Park Inn had undergone its change through decades of steady deterioration, the City National Bank was drastically remodeled under new ownership in 1926, three years after its failure as a bank. It originally had a two-story banking space with a single exterior entrance on the east and a solid brick wall extending up sixteen feet to clerestory windows that lit and ventilated the banking floor, elevated four steps above the sidewalk. An upper floor of rental offices was above the bank. Its row of casements formed a unified frieze with the clerestory windows, set off from the solid wall by a horizontal belt course.
A 1926 Bank remodeling added an intermediate second floor by lowering the first floor to grade level, lowering the belt course eight brick courses and inserting taller double-hung sash windows in place of the clerestories. This completely distorted the original proportions. From a building with a strong, solid brick base and a light airy top, it now is top-heavy with the upper, windowed segment taller than its base, now perforated with store-front windows.
For aesthetic success and historic significance, the project must include the Bank segment as well as the Hotel. The hotel’s economic and functional viability will be helped with six more guest rooms on the bank’s top floor, to provide a total of 27 guest rooms and suites, and a central elevator location. The restored, elegant, two-story banking space will become a multi-purpose space to support the hotel’s functions as a destination hotel. It was necessary to double the project scope to make the old Park Inn Hotel have its proper significance -- This will permit restoration of the original exteriors of both building segments.
A competitively-won “Iowa Great Places” grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs and the local Muse Norris Foundation provided for the purchase of the Bank segment. The hotel has undergone roof stabilization, restoration of its exterior surfaces, demolition of all non-original interior walls and, most recently stabilization of basement walls and re-construction of the mezzanine balcony between café and lobby, with substantial help from a Save America’s Treasures Grant. This takes us 10% of the way in our $20,000,000 project.
On March 12, WOTP received a Vision Iowa grant of $7,500,000 from the Iowa Department of Economic Development for the continuation of the rehabilitation of both building segments. Along with the Vision Iowa grant, the sale of Historic Preservation Tax Credits is expected to yield another 67% of the total funding. For the first time, Mason City residents watching the Park Inn’s gradual deterioration since a modern, 250-room hotel was built here in 1922, can believe the project is do-able.
The sweetest rose has the biggest thorns. The Vision Iowa grant is double-edged: while providing a great financial boost, it carries a 180-day deadline. Counting from the day after the grant announcement (March 12), a match of $4,300,000 must be raised for this grant. This will be a daunting task for a town of 28,000, without outside help. For $2,000,000 of this match, WOTP must seek help from the wider Frank Lloyd Wright Community. Contributions can be made to Wright on the Park, Inc. by credit card through the WOTP web site: www.wrightonthepark.org, or by mail to P.O. Box 792, Mason City, Iowa 50402-0792.