I’m not usually lucky enough to tour the buildings I write about for the magazine. In the case of the March-April 2015 cover story—the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Historic Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, Iowa—the luck that seemed to follow the restoration project itself also may have helped me.
To fully experience the hotel, I called to make a reservation for the night my tour was taking place—a Friday in late January—and was told there was only one room left, which I took. I found out later I was traveling to Mason City the weekend of nearby Clear Lake, Iowa’s Winter Dance Party. The annual event, which is held at the Surf Ballroom, commemorates the musical legacies of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, who died in a plane crash after performing at the Surf Ballroom in February 1959. I thought it was pretty lucky I was able to reserve a room less than two weeks before the Winter Dance Party in a historically significant hotel with only 27 rooms!
Consequently, Scott Borcherding, IIDA, principal and interior designer for the restoration architect, Bergland + Cram, Mason City, and Jean Marinos, finance director for the non-profit Wright on the Park, which owns the Historic Park Inn Hotel building, graciously spent hours with me recalling unique stories about the restoration. Unfortunately, not every detail made it into the story, but I thought you might find the following interesting:
- Just as when the hotel was constructed in the early 1900s, the restoration team was composed of mostly local contractors, subs and artisans, which Marinos attributes to the project’s success. She says: “Everybody on the board, Bergland + Cram and Henkel Construction are friends. We live in the same community; we know each other; we like each other. There were times when we didn’t like each other! But, in the end, we appreciated each other’s efforts and commitment.”
- During my tour, Borcherding, Marinos and I ran into six Winter Dance Party attendees who were self-described architecture aficionados. The tourists were very impressed by the restoration and verbally patted Borcherding and Marinos on the back for saving the hotel in such a fantastic way.
- I would wholeheartedly recommend staying at the Historic Park Inn Hotel, not only for the historic experience, but also because it was one of the quietest and most comfortable hotels I have stayed in. I didn’t hear any traffic noise, slamming guestroom doors or dings from the elevator. I did, however, notice the original wood flooring under the carpet in my room squeaked—a nice preservation of the building’s character.
- My travel companion and I ate at the 1910 Grille in the hotel. Our entrees were delicious. I’ve been trying to recreate my grilled salmon served on a lemon, spinach and tomato risotto while my friend commented that his New York strip was among the best steaks he has had in his life—and he is what I would call a beef snob.
There is still so much more to the story of the Historic Park Inn Hotel. I urge you to make the trip to Mason City and tour the hotel for yourself. While you’re in town, you can visit the boyhood home of Meredith Willson, composer of The Music Man, and visit Music Man Square museum; experience the largest collection of Prairie School-style houses in the Rock Crest-Rock Glen Historic District; as well as visit the nearby Surf Ballroom, which still looks as it did that fateful night in 1959. Happy travels!