Last October, Don and I stayed in the modest little town of Perry. About an hour from Des Moines.
I found photos of Hotel Pattee on the internet. What was the story about this spiffed up little beauty, in small town Iowa?
Before heading on our trip, people kept asking the same question. "Why are you going on a road trip in Iowa?" The easy answer was, "Oh, I like Iowa. I used to live there." But that was 56 years ago. No family in Iowa now.
Mostly, Don and I just love simple, meandering-trips, driving on chill country roads. Iowa has a lot of them. The state also has a lot of very curious small towns, as well as historic inns that aren't expensive. Perry and Pattee seemed like a good combo.
Flags and Canopy
I was happy to see the flowers and waving flags welcoming us. The canopy added a bold city-look to the hotel.
I learned later that the ritzy canopy was actually removed in the 1960's, when the hotel became apartments. That happens... I'm glad it came back.
The planters with healthy ferns, added a retro hotel feel.
And I loved the classy "HP", built into the bricks. "Hotel Pattee"?
I spotted more "HP" decor on the terra cotta floors, when we entered. Were the letters for Hotel Pattee or Harry Pattee?
Harry Pattee and his brother began building the hotel in honor of their father, in 1912. (Harry seems to be the name more associated with the hotel) Sadly, their dad died before the hotel's opening in 1913.
Perry was a prosperous agricultural and railroad town, when the Pattee brothers decided to build. Seems odd that they sold the hotel less than a year after its opening. This is how the lobby looked in 1939 after quite a few owners and re-openings.
But by 1993, the hotel was in sad shape. Luckily, multimillionaire philanthropists, Roberta and Howard Ahmanson bought the hotel. Roberta had the needed passion, for rescuing an iconic hotel in the town where she grew up. Howard had the family money. They did an amazing top dollar renovation job.
Re-Opened in 1997
After a massive remodeling the hotel reopened in 1997, with 40 theme-based guest rooms.
The only theme I could spot in the lobby and common areas, was an Arts and Crafts theme. Which isn't really a theme. That's just the decorative trend that was still popular in 1913.
When we arrived, we were welcomed by Gabby at the front desk. We were also greeted by Lopso the 3-legged pup, who was lounging on the carpet.
Fireplaces and Art
Don and I wandered the first floor common areas and were blown away by the quality of craftsmanship. The leather furniture and Persian rugs added a classy warmth.
I was drawn to the 2-sided stone fire-place, with artwork on both sides.
Words on the Wall
We spotted quotes stenciled throughout the hotel. Some words were thought provoking.
Some made me feel like I was at church.
The artwork throughout the hotel was quite impressive. From what I've since read, the Ahmansons are both passionate about the arts and religion.
Supposedly there are 117 pieces on display, all from regional artists.
I liked some of the small town scenes. Much of the art reminded me of the the work of Iowa native Grant Wood. Wood actually created a lot more than the well known American Gothic couple.
Louie in the Ballroom
There was a huge mural in the Spring Valley Ballroom.
There was a lot going on in this mural. Louis Armstrong and his horn, is shown just above a circus tent. Evidently he stayed at Hotel Pattee long ago, when he was not welcomed in any of the Des Moines hotels.
I was excited to get down to the basement level and find more artwork. I don't know the story about the funny floating lady, but she reminded me of a whimsical marionette.
Beneath the painting of a farmer, I saw a collection of doggy toys.
The toys of course belonged to the 3-legged hotel mascot, Lopso. He had a lot of toys and numerous lounging spots in the hotel.
Gabby at the desk, told me the story of Lospo. In 2020, the sweet pup belonged to a homeless man, who got into an issue with a man and his gun. Lopso ended up with more than bullet injuries, but was given good care by a local vet. Hotel Pattee became his new home, where he now has many fans.
Arthur "Oley" Olson's Bowling Alley
There were more fun surprises in the basement. The hotel has had a bowling alley since its opening in 1913.
The bowling alley was given a huge makeover and a new name, when the Ahmansons renovated 25+ years ago. They named the 2-lane bowling alley after Roberta's grandfather, who happened to be a champion bowler in the 1920s and 1930s.
There seemed to be no end to my basement exploration. I found artwork and bowling options and doggy toys. I think there was possibly a fitness room, that I totally missed.
And I found a chapel, that wasn't exactly big enough for a hotel wedding. This was a tiny space with enough room for 4 praying people. I started thinking about some of the bible quotes and wondered if the hotel actually opened in 1913, with a chapel and stenciled bible verses. I don't know that I've ever stayed in a hotel with a chapel. I should have taken a seat (or kneeler) to ponder that.
Up We Go
The 3-story building had an elevator, but the marble stairs were so lovely.
When I'm not lugging suitcases, I always prefer stairs... especially when we're not on the top second floor.
With each climb, I admired the dramatic view of artwork and skylight.
There were comfy sitting areas on both guest floors. I loved spotting the horse sculpture out of one window!
The hall decor (along with the plaque outside of our room) was perfectly in touch with the Craftsman style.
R.M. Harvey Room
There were 40 themed rooms to chose from and I chose a room with a name that I didn't even recognize.
Don knew he had no say, about our room choice. I was too excited to pick the theme. It was a quick decision.
I didn't really care who RM Harvey was. I just knew I wanted to be in the circus room.
I can't help it. I have a thing about circuses. This room just made me grin and clap like some kind of amused 2-year-old at the circus. It's embarrassing how entertained I was.
Tiny Room with Lots of Stuff!
I knew our room wasn't one of the large ones. But they squeezed in 2 rooms worth of colorful circus themed decor.
The walls were packed with photos and news clippings about R.M Harvey and his involvement with numerous Iowa circuses over 60 years.
There was lots to read above the desk and even in the bathroom! I didn't read it all, but I quickly learned Mr. Harvey was a business man, not a performer. If he'd been a lion tamer or trapeze guy, I'd have read every word.
My eyes got busy taking in every detail! Performing animals on the lampshade...
... a tidy little pillow and blanket set with lions and clowns, on a cozy red chair.
The Big Picture
I love a kitschy, themed room! Even if it's a little worn or dusty, like the Clown Motel in Nevada, I'm so easily amused. But honestly this dandy little circus room was spotless. It was 10 times cuter than the website photos.
Our queen bed fit neatly between 2 tables, holding circus animal lamps. (The horse and lion kept an eye on us!) Above the colorful pillows was a striped circus tent canopy! The ceiling light glowed through a clown hat. Love it!
Spotlight on Details
I was thoroughly impressed. The room was not decorated with random circus-theme decor purchased from a thrift shop or Kids-R-US. Every detail was thought out for adult circus fans.
Even the mural border surrounding the room, was entertaining with a lively circus scene. There was a ledge with extra lighting to enhance our viewing.
Quilt, Curtain and Dishes!
I do love an old quilt! But I was happy to sleep under one that wasn't faded and musty smelling. This one had a tag saying a local quilt group had made it for the Circus Room in 2022. The colorful patchwork design made me think of the painted stands, that roaring lions sit upon, in the ring.
And look at how the window curtains part, just like the opening of a circus tent. Then zoom in above the headboard to see the display of children's dishes. I looked for the china (with creepy clown faces) on Ebay and learned that the dishes were put out by Union Pacific RR! Not cheap!
Popcorn in the Circus Room
After looking out the window a moment, I noticed a wooden popcorn wagon, parked in front of the library across the street. Kids were stopping by on their way home from school, to buy a bag or 2.
I was inspired! I dashed downstairs and bought some popcorn, to enjoy in the circus room!
What a caption! And what good news, that Tom Mix and his horse Tony, "Will positively appear at each performance!"
I studied the fine vintage posters as I nibbled my popcorn. You just can't beat this Tom Mix circus poster, with a plate of pancakes and a winking clown holding Castor Oil! This would freak out a lot of people, but I chose this side of the bed, just to be near those pancakes!
Don and I were excited to make use of the lounge and restaurant, just off the lobby. The classy Inter-Urban Lounge was a bit quiet, on a weeknight at 5:30.
The lounge was named for the electric train that used to take folks from Perry to Des Moines. The beautiful remodel was done in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, who spent a lot of time in Iowa.
Back in the Day
I'm guessing this photo from Hotel Pattee, is from the 1940s or 1950's. No FLW Prairie Style in this bar.
I wonder if Mr. Wright ever visited Hotel Pattee? Wright actually designed a hotel in Mason City, Iowa around the same time Hotel Pattee opened.
Wall of Photos
While Don ordered us drinks, I glanced at the display of photographs.
The walls were covered in framed images of the town's railroad history. A few spotlights on Perry locals as well.
The lounge was eerily quiet, so we took our drinks to the library.
This cozy place with copper hooded fireplace, needed some appreciators. We moved right in!
I liked the quote above the painting of the mysterious faceless farmer.
I studied the book selections and studied the vases and treasures, tucked into the shelves.
Don tried out one of the Mission Style rockers, resting on the lovely William Morris replica carpet. Ok, I didn't know the name William Morris. Had to look him up.
Don and I put the timer on the cell camera and had a quick toast.
It was the evening before our anniversary and our last night together in Iowa. Cheers to 44 years of crazy travels!
And then there was dinner in the railroad themed restaurant! The Hostess Station/Ticket Booth delighted this theme-lover!
The hostess told me the train on the track above our heads, wasn't working at the moment. But it looked pretty festive anyway.
I snapped a photo of the empty dining room earlier, so I wouldn't annoy diners.
But at 7:30, there was no one to annoy in the dining room anyway. We had it to ourselves.
We sat in a cozy booth, with seat cushions that made us feel like we were on an old train. Above us we enjoyed a mural of the Perry Train Station.
There were also painted images on the panels above our seats. My eyes couldn't stop wandering.
I looked across the tables and studied another mural from an earlier decade. I wish I could go back in time...
First we split a humongous Caesar salad with sliced egg... which was wonderful.
Then we devoured our entrees. Don's Cornmeal Sautéd Walleye Filet and my Chicken Parmesan were both over the top. It seemed impossible that we were getting this big city quality food, with small town prices. And where was everyone?
We had nothing but good things to say as we dined, but we found ourselves practically whispering. The place was so quiet. No music to muffle our voices as we discussed how bewildered we felt about the hotel. "How can this food be so good and cheap? How hard is it to keep a good chef in this town? How much did it cost to renovate, with such expensive materials and craftsmanship? How can the hotel like this even break even, with so few guests?"
Luckily we stopped stressing and just enjoyed the feast and the hotel for the rest of the evening. I loved stepping out and seeing the hotel lit at night.
Soumas Court was also glowing, right next door. The hotel's art-filled outdoor gathering space, was lovely in the day and night.
At night, I took a few photos of some of the lit up art installations, along the street.
In the morning Don and I wandered the curious town. We spotted the train tracks that once made Perry so prosperous. A couple times we caught a whiff of the Tyson meat packing plant, that later brought jobs and new smells to Perry. Funny how it didn't bother me. It was just another piece of the Perry story. I felt drawn to the town.
I've rambled way too long, so I'll be short. Hotel Pattee delights me! Perry intrigues me. The hotel's history and themed rooms are curious and fun. The fabulous top dollar renovations make the stay comfortable and classy.
I'm glad the city now plays a part in the ownership. (There were a few owners after the Ahmansons suddenly closed in 2006) Hopefully the hotel will never close again!
Update: Since I posted this piece, Perry has gained a spotlight in the news, that they never wanted. Learning of the horrific shooting at Perry High School was jolting and infuriating. My heart goes out to the residents of this special town.
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!