Another Old One, in Iowa
This is about the 9th historic Iowa hotel that Don and I have enjoyed in the past decade.
Hotel Winneshiek opened in 1905, but the history of lodging on this piece of land, goes back to the mid 1800's.
Pretty Town and Hotel
Don and I discovered the U-shaped hotel when we drove through the town of Decorah, about 9 years ago.
We were impressed with the quaint, downtown buildings and noticed the tidy, 3-story hotel. We parked and stepped inside. After peeking around, we put it on our list and 9 years later, we booked.
It was a sunny day when we arrived last fall.
As we headed towards the entrance, I was entertained by all that was going on, around that door. Ionic columns! Stone ornamental shield! Fancy pediment above the door! All part of the Beaux-Arts building design.
I'm pretty the Beaux-Arts style involves symmetry and this 2 part building was perfectly balanced. This photos shows the building section to the left of the entrance.
The matched sides appealed to my child self. As a kid, I liked things even! I was about 8, when my older brother tried to explain the beauty of asymmetric design. I told him he didn't know what he was talking about!
Before the current building was constructed, Winneshiek House took in guests. The building style looks quite different. The Seyer Opera House (on the left) still looks much the same today.
The description from the Historical Society is pretty informative... and confusing. Two-over-two windows? I need to learn!
Before reaching the lobby, we passed through a one-story vestibule.
The terrazzo floors and cherry woodwork greeted us. All original.
I'm not sure if the stained glass is original. As with many historic hotels, The Winneshiek had some dark years, following the prosperous ones. Did the stained glass survive?
To the left of the door, I spotted 2 photos, with famous visitors. The hotel was freshly refurbished when Barrack Obama visited during his first run for office. The Crown Prince and Princess of Norway were big visitors, in 1939.
When we stepped into the 3-story lobby, I looked straight up. The open space and stained glass ceiling, created a grand-looking atrium.
I'm not a math person, but I've always liked puzzling over geometry. There were a lot of shapes to ponder in the the wood and glass. It's hard to believe this octagonal rotunda was completely covered up, in a big 1930's remodeling.
This wonderful view from the third floor was completely lost after the odd structural changes, 8+ decades ago!
There was no one to spy on from above. But I enjoyed studying the seating arrangement in the center of the lobby.
Pondering the Floor
The circular mosaic design in the middle of the terrazzo floor must have made furniture arranging a little tricky, over the years.
There were 4 chairs facing the circle. Perfect for admiring the "H W" mosaic design in the center. It's possible that this floor was covered in carpet, back in the 1970's, when the hotel was turned into an apartment building. Luckily, The Winn (as people in the know call it) was rescued in 1998. The interior (with all its funky apartment renovations) had to be demolished, then reconstructed.
The comfiest seating option was the couch, facing the marble fireplace, with its decorated mantle.
I doubt those chairs were there in 1939, but I could picture the Crown Prince and Princess, sitting properly in both oddly tall things.
Hall of Mirrors
Between the front desk and the fireplace, there was a hallway leading to a rear entrance.
I wanted to ask the guy who checked us in, what the story was with all those mirrors. But the guy (that I nicknamed Mr. Bland) was not open to much chit chat. He seemed as formal as the most ornate mirror, in the display. He had a "check-in spiel" that didn't allow for questions. I was told "I will get to that." when I asked questions that he planned on answering later.
Across from the Mr. Bland's counter, was a grand stairway, with curling banisters. The kid in me wondered about the short (but challenging) ride I could have taken down one of those. I can picture Mr. B's reaction!
The railings swooped open dramatically, as if welcoming us to wander up to the painted garden! There could have been an interesting story about that painted well. I didn't ask.
Steyer Opera House
A little later I wandered in search of the Opera House. I knew the hotel had an entrance to the elegant 1870 theatre. It was renovated along with the hotel and is now used as an event space.
I only found this decorated wall and some locked doors. I gathered my confidence and asked Mr. Bland if it might be possible to have a peek at the Opera House. (I'd read guest reviews, raving about the theatre) He assured me that wasn't possible. Oh well.
Our room was located off a little hallway, on the second floor.
It was very quiet. The only people we saw were the ones in the framed art.
A Puzzling Space
A trio of doors faced the little hallway near our room. I looked at the shape of the ceiling and carpet and tried to imagine how hard it was puzzling together all these room spaces, within this oddly shaped hotel building.
When we opened our door, we were met with an even longer hall. We passed a bathroom and closet area, to get to our room.
The grand reopening of the hotel was nearly 25 years ago, so I was nicely surprised with the fresh and spacious bathroom. The geometric tile pleased me. And yay for a tub and even a make-up mirror.
I don't usually add a toilet photo, but this toilet practically had its own room and window. Frosted glass behind the lace!
I'm always delighted with a corner room.
Like the bathroom, this felt spacious for an old hotel.
In a matter of moments Don and I were chuckling at the room details. Decorating isn't actually my thing and I'm usually very forgiving with old hotels. But the formality of the drapes and lace and gold frames, seemed oddly accented with oak furniture, that you might find at IKEA.
The window drapes did actually fit the proper style of the hotel. But the views behind the lace weren't so elegant. A brick wall and a parking lot. We should have asked Mr. B for a room in the front of the building.
And The Bed
Once again, I found myself perplexed by the mix of styles. It seemed like the hotel had worked hard to be accurate with renovations. But our Mission-style headboard just did not fit.
And the fit of the "comforter" was even worse. It was about the weight of a tissue and it barely covered the top. I kept looking at the texture and being reminded of when I was a bored child and crumbled a piece of notebook paper about 3,000 times, until the lines rubbed away and the paper was as soft as a Kleenex.
The bed-topper was indeed soft, but the exposed metal frame was not. Don came close to a bloody injury, so he wrapped the frame's leg with a towel.
Don was also concerned about the already cold room. He was pretty sure the "Kleenex" wasn't going to provide us with enough warmth. There were no blankets in the closet.
I called Mr. B at the desk and he had a blanket sent up. It was more of a large beach towel, but it did add a bit of warmth.
Hotel Winn Bar
I promise we didn't really fret for hours over our bed. We spread the golden blanket and headed off for the hotel's bar/restaurant. Actually more bar than restaurant.
I took photos before The Winn Bar opened, at 5. It was really a very nice and comfortable set up.
At the Bar
It was after 6, when Don and I took a seat at the bar. That was a good plan since the lone bartender was working the bar, tables and kitchen himself. It was a pleasant treat to look across the bar and see artwork, instead of a TV.
Our bartender Jeremy couldn't have been nicer. He bustled around, but slowed down now and then to chat with us. We had some interesting conversations about Jeremy's work with the Coastguard, while we nibbled on toasted ravioli, with pesto sauce.
And after we finished, there was an inviting fire in the lobby. I checked out one of the tall, velvet chairs! I felt like Goldilocks! "This chair is toooo tall."
It was nice to have the lobby to ourselves. Mr. B wasn't lurking anymore and we were growing fond of our curious hotel. I was surprised that we saw no other guests while we lounged.
We slept well under our peculiar covers. I slipped outside before 7 the next morning.
The street was quiet and the Old Winn looked pretty lovely, in the pre-dawn light.
One of the best parts of staying at The Winnehiek, was the location. It was 35 degrees that morning, but I couldn't go inside and miss out on seeing the town wake up.
I kept wandering and spotting lovely buildings, along with the changing sky.
Don and I ended up skipping the complimentary breakfast at The Winn and had bagels across the street. Then we were off to explore a little more of the charming town.
I will mostly remember our stay at Hotel Winneshiek for the building itself and the nice downtown location. I love Decorah and I love that this hotel was rescued and renovated.
Comfortable bar... friendly bartender. Octagonal rotunda and amusing bed. Mostly I'll remember the pretty exterior on the lovely street... and beautiful weather for exploring!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!