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I want to be honest with you, when I heard that I was going to stay at the historic Frank Lloyd Wright Park Inn Hotel during my visit to Mason City, Iowa – I cringed. I am far from being a Frank Lloyd Wright expert but know that a lot of his buildings were falling apart. He built homes that were designed to last only one generation – basically being biodegradable. His love affair with plywood, foundations that were too small for the finished buildings, lack of proper water drainage or gutters, and even flat roofs. None of that is conducive to the Midwest climate, let alone, make for a long-lasting building.
Foundations crumbled under the weight. Water leaked into the basements and attacked those foundations, weakening them even more. Black mold grew. Floors shifted. Roofs collapsed. Windows pulled away from their casings and let that cold winter draft in.
I knew that there were originally six hotels designed, and only five were built – that this was the last one standing today that was an actual hotel.
My Adventure at the Historic Park Inn Hotel of Mason City Iowa
Then I did a little research – and learned how Wright didn’t design just a hotel in the small, close-knit town, but basically a very early version of a shopping mall. While people were still building tenements, building close to the street that had shopping on the bottom and apartments on top, Mason City embraced a design that would encompass an entire block to house a bank, law offices, hotel with restaurant, and retail space for shops.
It had been fully restored after it went through a long journey of being plagued by both its design flaws and the economy. This famous hotel was designed in the Prairie School style, an architectural design, created by Frank Lloyd Wright and brought back to life by Wright on the Park, a local non-profit organization that helped raise the over 19 million dollars needed to oversee the project.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Historic Park Inn Hotel is so much more than a night’s accommodation in Mason City, it is a historical memory to last and share for the rest of your life. No matter what hotels you have been a guest of, anywhere in the world, a night or two at this place will leave an impression on you like no other.
It is a rare and special occasion when you go on vacation, book a hotel, and the very hotel itself becomes a part of your “go-to” or “must-see” attractions. The individually designed and styled rooms. The meticulous attention to detail and attention by the entire staff, as well as the relaxing and all of the comforts of home, yet elegant and stylish design of everything this hotel has to offer you, is an experience for the ages. It would be perfect for that romantic getaway.
Who Is Frank Lloyd Wright?
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the world’s most famous architects. Also a writer, designer, and educator, he designed some of the most prolific architecture in the world during the 20th century.
Frank Lloyd Wright was not just an architect. He was an innovator, an artist, and an inspiration to other architects of his time and still today.
He was also very controversial – between his personal life, challenges to traditional architecture, and more.
Park Inn Hotel History
Local lawyers Blythe and Markley brought the young Wright to Mason City to create this grand project, where they would house their law offices in style. Wright would come into town, and design this project and the historic Stockman House Museum, which was within walking distance of this project.
His less than stellar personality saw him insulting the town, bossing people around, and then leaving for Europe to ride out the undesired press from his current affair – where both he, and his girlfriend were already married to other people. He would never return to install his signature red tile – but I get the feeling Mason City was OK with that.
Lucky for Mason City – this project was before his love of plywood. The oak trim painted in his traditional dark cherry wood color, or real mahogany was used in the law offices, as one of the lawyers had interests in a business that helped supply it.
Tile. Stained glass. Compression and Release. Horizontal lines. Cantilevered Roof. Recessed Balconies. Tile work. Overhangs. All of Frank Lloyd Wright’s trademark features were incorporated into the Park Inn Hotel project and the result was a showcase that opened in 1910 for the low price of $155,000. It was his answer to “bring a pop of color in a boring little town” – his words, not mine.
Even if you are not a student or have an appreciation of architectural genius, this hotel will leave an impression on you.
Challenges to Face
We all know about the great depression and the failure of the banks. Most of the problems here started before that.
· In 1922 a competing hotel was built that had 250 rooms, many more than the Park Inn’s 42.
· The area had been hit hard by the Farm Crisis. Mason City lost four of its five banks, including the one housed in this property in 1926.
· Parts were sold off, the buildings repurposed, and more as it just went downhill from there until it was closed in 1972.
By the year 2000, the building was in horrible disrepair. The limestone foundation was crumbled to the point that the bank side of the building was a full ten inches lower than the other side of the building. There was a serious black mold issue, and even pigeons lived happily on the open third floor.
It was a real wake up call for the Mason City community when one person suggested listing the property on Ebay for $1.
Wright on the Park, the non-profit owner since 2005 of the Historic Park Inn Hotel, stepped up to lead the restoration efforts – to the tune of just over 19 million dollars.
It would reopen on September 10, 2011 (9-10-11), 101 years after its original date.
The original 42 rooms were only ten by ten feet wide with a bed, dresser, and sink. With the remodel, it became 27 suites with complete bathrooms. All are different, which makes the idea of going back over and over again a lot of fun! Just think – 27 different visits in rooms ranging from $130 -300! One even has a claw foot bathtub!
A romantic weekend getaway is just perfect for you and your significant other. In-room refrigerators, coffee-makers, queen-sized beds, and private bathrooms offer the setting for a memorable stay with your loved one.
Careful attention to detail has been taken for authenticity. Wall plugs were taken to get the colors correct. The 25 special skylight panels have been returned by Doctor McCoy (they ended up in his house during the various renovations of the property over its decline) and are now under a protective dome. And then, there is the wall-to-wall carpet.
The gorgeous wool carpet isn’t original in design in any way, but it is iconic. The colors match, and the different patterns have a united theme that allows for transitions from space to space. It almost didn’t arrive in time for the 2011 opening as it was stuck on a ship in the ocean, and we joked about how they might have had to punt with wall-to-wall Berber.
The bow-tie effect louvered doors are still in place but filled in so you have privacy – and cubist design lighting is visible everywhere you look.
It is Handicap Accessible
There is an elevator. That helps make this place not only handicap accessible, but handicap experienceable. The only problem I saw for wheelchairs was the public bathrooms on the main floor of the hotel – they were a tad narrow.
If you have an electric wheelchair you may want to call first for the dimensions of the front doors of the hotel to make sure that they are manageable. Other than that, a small part of the tour might be an issue – I am not sure you could get out on the deck from the ladies’ drawing room.
It is Gorgeous
It is easy to see how this would have been a shining jewel in the Mason City crown in the time when it was the hub of the area – the place to get to when you needed provisions. Now? Visitors and tourists from all around the world come to stay in this hotel just because of its unique design and style. The hotel has earned its spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
While the decor and general appearance of the hotel may have evolved over the decades, the most recent renovations have kept true to the original design, feel, and attitude of the era it was originally built.
When You Visit
As soon as you walk through the entrance and approach the front desk, you will be greeted by warm and friendly staff.
Once you arrive at your room, you will experience all of the comforts of home and more. Lots of modern amenities to make your stay here comfortable and memorable.
The luxurious rooms offer you queen-size beds, air conditioning, a private bathroom, a flat-screen tv, free wi-fi, plenty of electrical outlets throughout the rooms, and the in-room coffee maker and refrigerator are a nice touch for every guest.
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Free Wifi throughout the hotel for your personal or business browsing is very convenient. If you are wanting to work off a little stress after conducting business in the conference center, there is an on-site fitness center and gym available 24 hours a day.
Although the luxurious guest rooms are slightly smaller than a conventional hotel room, it was the normal design of the time this masterpiece was created and built, so it adds to the overall ambiance and experience you would hope for.
I had an amazing night’s sleep.
Parking is never a problem for guests. Free parking in the adjacent parking lots and street parking is always available and convenient. I may or may not have heard that the one person who gives parking tickets retired and she hasn’t been replaced yet. Just another reason I love smaller towns!
But Wait – There is More
The original bank now acts as a mini-convention center. It is used for all kinds of different events, from meetings to weddings. It has easy access from both the hotel and the street.
Markley & Blythe Restaurant
The Markley and Blyth is the hotel’s onsite restaurant and is often described as a sophisticated American Tavern restaurant with an homage to the region’s produce and meat producers. Named after two of the original building’s occupants, J.E.E. Markley and James E.. Blythe, who ran their law office next to the bank and hotel.
The restaurant offers a sophisticated yet approachable menu with something for everyone. Homemade portions of pasta and handcrafted nostalgic entrees are reason enough to sit down for a meal here.
You will not find a more relaxing and inviting dining room with professional, knowledgeable, and friendly staff to take care of your every need. Dinner is served seven nights a week and brunch is offered on the weekends.
The Draftsman Bar is a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright himself. Located in the basement of the Historic Park Inn Hotel, this lounge offers music and hors d’oeuvres in a unique and historic atmosphere.
With a curated menu, local and domestic brews, cocktails, and a modest selection of wines, this watering hole is a favorite for locals and hotel guests alike.
Be sure to try the Wisconsin Cheese curds. For $9 you will get a delicious portion of hand beer-battered and deep friend Ellsworth White Cheddar Cheese.
The Charcuterie Board is divine with cured meats, Iowa cheese, homemade pickles, beer mustard, and local jam. All of this perfection for only $18 is a plentiful snack for you and your friends.
The Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned is not your regular old-fashioned. Bourbon, Demerara sugar, and angostura bitters are all combined and aged to perfection in a classic oak barrel. This $10 drink is the perfect combo with both of the choices mentioned above unless you are a fellow Wisconsinite – because. Bourbon. (eesh)
I was much happier with a watermelon Cosmo.
Take a Tour
Don’t take my word for all of this. Wright on the Park offers 60-minute guided tours daily. You will learn about the history of the hotel as well as an in-depth account of the restoration project. Barb B was our docent and beyond knowledgeable on the property and its history.
You will start out in the park across the street so you can easily see the building and what is being talked about, then move inside the hotel and work your way to the law offices, and then the original bank section.
You can visit Wright on the Park to schedule your tour reservation.
How Do I Get There?
It is conveniently located at 15 W State Street in downtown Mason. Right across the street from Central Park and a short 10-minute walk from the historic Stockman House Museum, which was also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is a prime location to take advantage of all that the amazing downtown has to offer.
What Is There To Do Nearby?
Staying at the Historic Park Inn Hotel is enough for the casual traveler whether you are on a destination vacation, traveling the country, or staying while on a business trip.
If you do decide to explore downtown Mason City a little more, there are a few interesting places to check out while you are roaming about as you take in the impressive sculptures and dazzling murals.
Music Man Square
Music Man Square is a non-profit living museum dedicated to the life and works of Meredith Willson. Best known for his Broadway musical, The Music Man”. At the young age of 19, Meredith joined the John Philip Sousa Band as the first flutist and then later joined the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
His accomplishments are known worldwide to those in the music and performing arts industry.
Meredith Willson Boyhood Home
Mason City is very proud of Meredith Willson and has turned his childhood home into a museum itself.
The home is a Queen Ann style architecture built in 1895. Meredith Willson lived in the home as a young boy before leaving Mason City to pursue his dreams of music and theater.
It is located adjacent to Music Man Square and offers daily tours by reservation only.
Charles H. MacNider Art Museum
I love art galleries that are just so much more. Here you can check out a huge collection of Bil Baird puppets – even the marionettes from The Sound of Music! The Charles Fritz Unfinished Diplomacy – Lewis and Clark Departing for the Brule Sioux gem is on display and there is even a beautiful piece of Chihuly glass. This place is VERY hands-on for the kids.
There is soooo much more to the area! Sculpture walks. Murals with a Frank Lloyd Wright twist. Restaurants. Stores. Plan a visit of your own, and do it soon! No matter what your purpose for booking a room at the Historic Park Inn Hotel is, you are sure to walk away relaxed, rested, and refreshed.
The only thing you want once you check out is to make another reservation for your next stay here.