Frank Lloyd Wright's Creation!
Mason City, Iowa!
One would think if you wanted to sleep in the only remaining hotel built by the famous architect of Prairie School Design, you'd have to go to a big city. But, I guess it's fitting that this building style, inspired by the horizontal landscapes of midwest prairies, would be found in a modest town in north Iowa!
A Drizzly Stay
We arrived on a gray October afternoon. I so badly wanted to see the sunshine on the elaborate, yellow brick and terra-cotta facade. Then again, the blah weather made it easier to imagine the years when this building wasn't the spotlight of Mason City. By the 1970's, the city hardly knew what to do with it. It was almost torn down.
Back to Life
In 2010, the hotel reopened after complete renovation. The Wright designed City National Bank which was attached to the hotel, became the hotel's ballroom. On the Thursday when we arrived, the ballroom space was being set up for 8th Annual Iowa Independent Film Festival.
Was Frank Short?
I'm just under 5"3', so I didn't even notice. But after we checked in with Chaurice (who was the most delightful desk clerk we had during our 22-day road trip) Don just laughed at how claustrophobic he felt under the low ceiling. I had to google F.LW.'s height and he was indeed on the short side. I think he actually liked annoying people who had to hunch a bit in some of his low spaces!
This 2-story room behind the lobby made up for the cramped front desk area. It had once been the hotel's dining room, but was now filled with reproduction Stickley Mission-style furniture as well as Arts & Crafts style lamps and artwork. This lounging area was just plain inviting, especially compared to so many of the Victorian historic hotels we've tiptoed around! Not only was this space comfy, but the skylight made it refreshing. And the mezzanine above the lobby had a player piano tinkling away with some fitting tunes.
The 25 panels of skylight glass were all original. That's pretty lucky, since so many details in the building had been removed or lost over the years. Another window that looked out towards the park, showed hints of fall trees through the muted greens and yellows of the glass. Pretty lovely.
Hall on 2nd Floor
Our cozy room was perfect. Yes, it was a bit narrow, but it was nearly twice the size of the original. There are only 27 guest rooms now, but there were over 40 in 1910. No two guest rooms are alike in the hotel and this one was less than $100. It amazes me that you can have this experience for that price.
H P I
Cozy Room & Bath
We had 2 large square windows that looked over the hotel skylight. They also looked right into the windows on the opposite side of the hotel, so we mostly kept our shades down. I spotted more squares on the light fixtures and desk chair. In the bathroom we had my favorite honeycomb tile as well as more logo... on the shower curtains and super fluffy towels. Even the bath soap had a little FLW shape to it!
I fit right in with my book "Loving Frank" (Fictionalized Frank) as I sat in one of the many cozy areas. Don's 6'2" frame did not fit as he walked into the mezzanine area, which looks down over the lobby.
Hanging with the Gentlemen
In the basement we found Seth, in his vest and bow tie, tending bar at the 1910 Lounge. This area was once the Gentlemen's Lounge and I seemed to be the only woman, but no one kicked me out. We had a great time learning about area from Seth, who is a Mason City native.
Film and Billiards
It was a chilly, wet evening so we decided to stay put. In the lounge we chatted with Seth and Chef Kurt, who dashed in from the kitchen a few times to check on the football scores. We also learned about the Film Festival from a local writer and festival worker, who stopped in to take a break from setting up in the ballroom. Then, we chatted with another Seth, from Chicago, who had directed one of the films being shown at the festival. We didn't squeeze in a game of "billiards" which I'm sure wouldn't have allowed ladies back in 1910.
Up For Dinner
Good Morning Ladies
We had our complimentary breakfast in the area that was once the Ladies Lounge. The ladies had no billiards, but they had a balcony with a nice view of the grassy town square. I let Don join me for coffee, since I enjoyed the Men's Lounge the night before! I loved the square saucer and HPI napkin, but the breakfast was a bit skimpy. I don't think FLW would have been impressed. But then, maybe he wasn't a big breakfast eater.
Rain or Shine
The morning was as moist as the day before, but I'm so glad we didn't let the gloomy weather keep us from taking a walk. Not only did we see The Stockman House, also designed by Wright, but we strolled through the Glen Park Neighborhood. (Many architects who worked with Wright while building the hotel, were commissioned to build homes nearby.) And then of course, we had to walk across the "Music Man Footbridge" in honor of Meredith Willson, who was from Mason City. This town inspired Willson's "River City" when he wrote "The Music Man". Funny to picture Mr. W. being about 8 years old when FLW was overseeing the construction of our hotel!
Not only did the hotel seem too special to be tucked into this small town in Iowa, but the people didn't fit the Iowa image either. For that reason I was left feeling like I hadn't cracked the mystery. I have such a strong urge to go back and observe and learn more... especially on a sunny day!
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!