I recently had an opportunity to stay at the Historic Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, Iowa. This is the last hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that is still standing anywhere in the world. Built in 1910 and totally renovated in 2011, it offers an amazing and unique opportunity to stay (if for only a night at a time) in a Frank Lloyd Wright building. Sure, there’s a handful of Frank Lloyd Wright houses being used as bed and breakfasts around the country, but none in Iowa and none that are designed from the ground up as a hotel. From the literature provided to me by the concierge, it is obvious that the hotel had not weathered the years well. The styles and tastes of the traveling public changed rapidly after its 1910 construction. The hotel had only been in existence for 16 years when the main floor was gutted and the exterior walls largely destroyed to make way for retail shops. Those shops remained until the recent renovation. More information is available on the website about the non-profit that owns the building and handled the renovation. It appears that the inn itself is managed by Stoney Creek hospitality.
The restoration involved hunting down original blueprints, designs, skylights, grates, windows, furniture, and light fixtures so that they could either be donated back for use in the hotel or be used as the basis for accurate reproductions. Many of the original fixtures had been carted off over the years. Some were moved to offices, others were in private collections and some were being used as outdoor fencing. It is obvious that millions of dollars have been spent bringing the building back to the vision of the architect. Because of the demands of a modern traveling public, the 41 original and very small guest rooms with shared baths have been replaced with 21 modern rooms with separate baths. My room ($100) was very adequate, with one queen sized bed, an armoire with a small refrigerator, a desk and a flat-screen T.V. The website shows that there are some very nice and large luxury suites.
The bathroom included a period-style tiled walk-in shower and a marble topped sink. The one odd feature was that the sink was positioned directly in front of a small window. Like the rest of the hotel, everything was true to the prairie school design in general and in some cases true to the original design. It appeared that some of the door hardware was original. There are some things that make every Frank Lloyd Wright design sort of odd. I assume that the six foot ceiling above the check in desk was part of the original design. I understand that Wright was a short man but tall people must feel awkward trying to check in or out.
The rest of the hotel has several features that cannot be found in similar modern hotels. First, there is a second story patio overlooking the main park in Mason City. Behind the patio is a glass-walled “Ladies Parlor” room. Off to the side was another room with memorabilia from the original hotel. A law library (I assume part of the old bank building), a “sample” room, and a 2,400 square foot ballroom, along with several other room,s are scattered about and most are finished with prairie style furniture.
I could hear that there was a large crowd gathered in the basement 1910 Lounge so I wandered on down. The lounge is reportedly not finished in the same way as in the original design but it is a very cozy bar, with a wine rack, pool tables and a lounge area. I took my position at the bar and ordered up an Old Fashioned. The bartender was experienced and did not hesitate to ask me what sort of spirit I wanted to use. The fairly large crowd kept the bartender hopping, but we were able to discuss whiskey and distilleries.
Historic Park Inn Mason City
7 West State St.
Mason City, IA 50401