One by one, each of Frank Lloyd Wright’s six hotels have disappeared. A fire destroyed Montana’s 1909 Bitter Root Inn in 1924, by that time a roadhouse. Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, completed in 1923, survived the Grant Kanto earthquake of the same year, only to be demolished in 1968. His 1911 Lake Geneva Hotel burned to the ground in 1970. Then, in 1972, the last Wright hotel closed: the Park Inn, in downtown Mason City, Iowa. Completed in 1910, the Prairie School structure became an office building, then a strip club, then sat vacant for years.
Now, after a 12-year, $18 million renovation, the inn has reopened as a 27-room boutique hotel. Commissioned in 1999, local firm Bergland + Cram restored the building’s original brick and terra-cotta façade, as well as authentic window grilles and a 16-panel art-glass skylight, which had been found in a local home. The lobby, ladies parlor, and balcony all appear as they did a century ago. The layout was revised to expand the guest rooms and incorporate private bathrooms, though one historic suite retains Wright’s original 10” x 10” configuration.
A nonprofit called Wright on the Park, formed by Mason City residents in 2005, spearheaded the restoration. It was funded with an $8.2 million grant from Vision Iowa, a state program that provides support for cultural attractions, and $3.6 million in state tax credits. The city, which had assumed ownership of the hotel, tried to sell it on eBay for $10 million in 2004. Eventually they deeded it to Wright on the Park for $1. The renovation became the subject of a 2008 documentary, “The Last Wright,” which traces the evolution of the hotel over its 100-year history.
Wright built the three-story wood-and-brick inn adjoining another of his designs, City National Bank. Both were additions to his initial commission, offices for a law firm, which have been restored and incorporated into the hotel. He considered the Park Inn design a prototype for Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel. When that building survived the 1923 earthquake, one of its principal investors, Baron Okura Kihachiro, sent Wright this telegram: “Hotel stands undamaged as a monument to your genius. Congratulations.” The hotel experienced more damage than Kihachiro thought, and now it’s gone. But someone should forward his message to the new proprietors of the Park Inn.