Fighting for the final Wright

Niki
Friday 14 Aug 2009

Campaigners rally to transfrom the last Frank Lloyd Wright hotel in the world

It’s not a particularly busy city. One would imagine that not too much talk of Mason City goes on out-with its boundaries, and tourism is perhaps not helped by a severe dearth of functioning hotels. But it’s not the loss of tourist accommodation in the sleepy town that has a dedicated team of campaigners fighting to save the Park Inn Hotel, this is the last hotel in existence designed by inspirational architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Built in 1910 the Park Inn Hotel enjoyed 62 years of life before it closed its doors in 1972, having gradually deteriorated through a succession of owners. A lack of love in the following years as the building lay derelict led to its decomposition until at its worst, the extensively cantilevered roof buckled under the strain, sagging dramatically; the structure had rotted with damp and carbon monoxide had suffocated the chimney until it crumbled.

But the deterioration of the Park Inn didn’t go unnoticed and campaigning for its resurrection made initial headway with the Save America’s Treasures campaign and paper published in 1999. Together with the City of Mason City, Wright on the Park – an organisation created specifically to revive the Park Inn - collaborated to bring the cause to the fore, using the campaign to call for funding and expertise.

"Mr Wright is considered one of America’s greatest architects. Mason City has the only remaining hotel in the world designed byWright and we must preserve this historic work for future generations," pleeds Ann MacGregor, Executive Director of Wright on the Park. Their call for action was answered by local architects Berland and Cram who for several years now have been developing the restoration plans. "It is a daunting challenge but we have an incredible group of dedicated and passionate individuals who have come together to make this challenge a reality," adds MacGregor.

In 1999 the Park Inn was also named as one of Iowa’s most endangered properties by the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance. Since then plans have moved forward and works have begun to bloom. Following a feasibility study it was decided that the best restoration for the Park Inn would be to transform it into a boutique hotel where it can be respectfully maintained upon completion. Stabilisation of the structure was completed as was the demolition of non period additions, the roof was repaired and original features were uncovered. The plans are moving towards an important deadline. The architectural artefact will see its 100th anniversary next year and it is hoped a complete restoration will be complete for the hotel to celebrate by once again welcoming visitors, although this deadline is now expected to stretch until the next year – an excuse to extend celebrations perhaps.

While funding is still not complete, $8.2 million has been donated through the Vision Iowa 2010 programme which aims to reinvigorate the whole state. Approximately $2million is needed in addition. But the hotel has secured a desirable hotel development and management company to pump life back in to the Inn and if Wright on the Park have any say in it, this project will not fail.

It says much about an architect if 50 years after their passing, a community will gather to protect their works. The completion of the Historic Park Inn will be another benchmark in the timeline of the ever prolific Frank Lloyd Wright.

Niki May Young
News Editor

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