A Sweet Stay, with a Sad History
At the end of September Don and I stayed at a Hilton, that once had a different name.
It was called Hotel Texas, when President and Mrs. Kennedy stayed, in 1963.
A Damp Day
The rain had just stopped that morning in '63, when the Kennedys stepped out from the hotel, before heading to Dallas. Spirits were high when the President spoke to the crowds.
It was also a rainy day, when Don and I arrived at the same entrance. We were meeting good friends and going to a very special wedding that night. Spirits were also high. But I couldn't ignore the history and the gloomy weather didn't help.
Open Since 1921
Once we stepped inside, it was easy to forget that our hotel was where President Kennedy spent his last night. The modern 2-story lobby, with escalator and horse statues didn't look at all like a hotel from 1963 or 1921 for that matter.
Room on the 12th Floor
But when the elevator doors opened to the 12th floor, we were faced with another reminder of that day. Our room was right beside the framed photograph. But I was very much okay with that. I'm always interested in hotel history, even if the history is bittersweet.
Windows and Art
Our room was spacious and comfortable with large windows, which I always love.
A framed print in the bathroom, showed "Hotel Texas" as it might have looked in 1963. The artwork in the guest room was just good old, Hilton Art. However, in '63, the Kennedy's suite was specially decorated for their visit, with 16 original masterpieces from Picasso to Monet.
I read in the link below, that the Kennedy's suite had a view of a Trailways bus station. When looked out our window, I didn't spot buses, but I saw pigeons on the sill and a statue of Kennedy, below in Memorial Plaza.
I was so busy remembering the hotel's mid-century history, that I forgot Hotel Texas went back to 1921.
Seeing a cowboy hat at the atrium bar, reminded me of how different Fort Worth was at the grand opening in 1921. The once rowdy cowtown, suddenly had a need for nicer hotels, with all the new oil wealth.
Don and I don't usually get to enjoy the bonus perks at hotels, so we were happy to join our good friends in the Executive Lounge for a little relaxing. We sat near some western belt buckle decor and enjoyed some yummy afternoon nibbles.
We even dressed for the Executive Lounge occasion... well at least Don did. (Always pack a 2-dollar bowtie, just in case!)
In the evening, we 4 spiffed up a bit and headed off for our special evening. If only the weather hadn't been so lousy, we would have made use of one of the hotel's best perks...the location. Our hotel was in walking distance to the church and wedding venue, as well as numerous restaurants and hot spots.
After joining our friends for breakfast, we said our good-byes and packed up. But before Don and I headed off, we took some time to do a little more exploring.
We rode the elevator to the 8th floor, just to remember. The Kennedy's Suite in 850, not longer exists. Renovations broke up the original 3-room suite, long ago. We could have booked Room 808, which is now a standard room in that area. Or we could have gone all out and booked the 2,200 sq ft Presidential Suite, which looks nothing like the "Oriental Modern" decor in the Kennedy's suite.
The Crystal Ballroom
Then Don and I peeked in the Crystal Ballroom, that had been a new addition in 1963. The President gave his last address at a breakfast in the ballroom, on that November morning. Over 2,000 attended. Today's ballroom has the same name, but looks nothing the same.
We exited the ballroom on the second floor and headed to the Promenade, along the front of the building. At both ends, we found a display of photos and articles about the Kennedy's brief stay at the hotel.
As we studied the photos, I wondered how many hotel visitors have stopped to look. How many guests find it too painful to be reminded of the tragic event, that happened after these photos were taken?
The mood was obviously different than that cold day in D.C., when I stood with my family at age 6, watching the flag draped casket pass.
I was glad to remind myself that I was standing beside a hotel, where crowds once cheered and waved as the Kennedys climbed into their car. Nothing sad occurred here.
We stepped into the same ballroom and maybe even used the same elevator. We even shared the same kind of weather and I'd like to say, we shared the same kind of hope. Elections are coming up, after all.
A Curious and Luxurious Overnight in Oklahoma
While searching the internet for unusual Oklahoma hotels, I ran across The Dominion House.
The name sounded strict and formal. The website photos looked fancy and reserved. But, it was the hotel's history that captured my attention. I wanted to see how a property, which had been a children's home, could become a luxury B&B.
In recent years, The Dominion has been a venue for weddings. In 2018, one of the brick federal-style buildings was renovated, to hold 6 guest rooms.
The main house looked very quiet and grand, when we arrived on a Sunday afternoon. If we'd come the night before, we might have taken in a different scene, with wedding guests on the veranda.
The Masonic Children's Home
I found this internet photo of the main house, when it was vacant between 1978 and 2000. The Children's Home was built in 1923, by the the Mason's, to house orphans and children, whose parents could no longer care of them.
Originally, the children were related to members of the fraternal organization. In the fifties the home opened its doors to other children. In the seventies, changes were made in the Oklahoma foster care program and the home closed. It must have been an eerie sight for many years, to the neighbors living nearby.
Besides the main house, there were a number of other buildings on the property.
Years ago, the city of Guthrie offered up 28 acres to the Masons for their children's home. The city also gave the children access to the public schools. Today, the buildings are surrounded by gorgeous lawns and gardens.
The West Wing
This is the building that now houses the 6 guest rooms. I'm still unclear about what this building was originally used for. I know that at least one dormitory building was torn down.
Approaching from The Rear
To enter the property, we came through gates at the rear. The huge parking lot was empty, except for one car. We hoped we had booked correctly and they were expecting us.
Our gracious host was expecting us. She checked us in and gave us a quick tour, showing us the gardens where weddings have taken place for about a decade. She insisted we pose for a photo, when she found out our 39th anniversary was coming up.
Lots of Green
We explored a while on our own. It was hard to imagine the peaceful lawns and pathways, swarming with wedding guests. I loved having it to ourselves.
I spotted a couple statues of children in the front gardens. It made me stop to think about what it was like for young kids living here, without parents. There's evidence that the Children's Home was a luxurious place, offering art and music lessons and an indoor pool with marble tile, a gymnasium and a skating rink. There are also creepy rumors, of an evil head mistress who beat children to death and a nutty nurse who threw herself from the bell tower. Just rumors, I hope. But supposedly, graves were found on the property. Yikes.
West Wing Superior
But all the crazy tales were easily forgotten when we headed down the second floor hallway, lit by glowing chandeliers. We opened the door to our West Wing Superior Room and the title matched the decor. It seemed more like a room at the White House, than a room in a haunted hotel. I felt totally unworthy.
Everything from the view, to the glass doorknobs was top notch.
Sconces and Chandeliers
We must have had 7 or more crystal light fixtures. It was so utterly not our style, but we were giddy about the whole thing.
Velvet and Wood
There was something pretty splendid about being in an old building, where everything smelled fine. The bed linens, drapes, couch and rug were all odor free.
The last time we had velvet drapes and couch, we were in a musty Victorian hotel in Wyoming, with creaky floors. Everything from the square pillar to the panel moulding, looked sturdy and clean.
The bathroom was so glamorous it pretty much made me laugh. The spacious, marble shower, looked like it could hold about 4 guests at once. The dramatic horse looked like he was politely turning his head, for those entering the claw footed tub. The gorgeous wood and marble vanity did a very fine job of holding the bucket of ice, delivered by our friendly host.
Evening at the Dominion
Before Don and I headed out for the evening, we went against house rules (no alcohol) and had a wine toast in our room. How could we not? Like sneaky children, we took the evidence back to our car. Which was wise, since we had a little turn-down service while we were away. A nice chocolate, stamped with the hotel image, was our reward!
Unfortunately, the hotel's new restaurant wasn't yet open for business. But we were able to walk to the historic downtown area, for dinner. Returning to see the lit up main house and fountain, was the best surprise. Equally lovely and eerie!
The faucet handle fell off and water began to spew in all directions. I tried desperately to force the handle back on, while I kicked open the door with my foot to shout in a whisper, "DON!" (I wanted no hotel staff coming to help!) Don woke and came to the rescue of his naked wife, by shutting off the water valve, underneath the tub. By this time, there was water covering the entire framed horse, the mirror, the marble floor and water was seeping towards the wood and carpet in the next room. Don and I used every towel to meticulously mop up the puddles and to remove every droplet. No bath for me.
By the time Don and I were dressed, we were exhausted. We headed straight to breakfast, passing though a sort of walkway between buildings.
The Main House
We ended up in the main house, with its grand staircase and formal dining room and bright reception room, with fireplace. I'm not sure how this space was used 95 years ago, but for a while it became a private residence to the new owners. In 2000, I think!
Don and I greeted another hotel guest on the way to our cozy breakfast room. She was sitting in her nightgown, having tea in the dining room... and that sort of amused me. I'm pretty sure I've never gone to a B&B breakfast, wearing a robe or nighty.
Chef David appeared from the new kitchen, which will be used to prepare meals for the new Bistro, soon. He was in great spirits, for 8 am. We chatted a bit about all the interesting places he has worked in past years. I was curious about his interest in international cooking.
The Bistro looked just about ready for business. David was extra excited about the pizza oven.
More Than Enough to Eat!
Time To Go
When it was time to check out, we had to share the news of our bathtub, with the host. I'm pretty sure I didn't cause the problem, but I somehow felt a little sheepish, as if I were one of the kids from the Children's Home, admitting guilt. My casual description of the problem, gave no hints about the real drenching fiasco that occurred.
The grounds and the hotel couldn't have been more lovely. The chef-cooked breakfast was a delicious treat. The staff and even the other guests, made us feel welcomed and comfortable.
That crazy bathtub experience, could have been the punishing work of the ghostly mistress!
Same Building, New Hotel - in Kansas City
But, when we heard that Hotel Savoy was reopening as a 21c Museum/Hotel, we knew this could be a whole different kind of Notable Night!
Hotel Savoy, Est. 1888
A New Look
The glowing hallway ramp took us to the "lobby" counter. The stark white walls and simple desk, sort of disappointed me. But the young men with their laptops, greeted us with much enthusiasm. It was a much friendlier check-in experience than we'd had 4 years before.
Keep Your Eyes on the Train
As we checked in, we studied our first piece of art in the Art Museum/Hotel.
3 trains, on 3 tracks, were mounted on the wall behind the counter. When the 3 moving trains became aligned, images on the train cars revealed a set of eyes! Clever!
To the left of the desk, was a gallery space that I recognized as the reception area, where we'd once checked in. The stained glass dome was now dim, but the purple & green, glass chandelier hung brightly. It was odd to see the frosted glass behind the ornate window bars. There was no grumpy check-in clerk, this time.
I chatted with the young man at the modern desk, about the changes. He agreed with me, that it was a shame to have no light coming through the old skylight. We ended up having a fun conversation and I shared my old blog write-up with him, on his laptop. He had never been in the hotel, before its renovation.
Before even finding our room, Don and I took in some of the art. There were permanent installations as well as a temporary exhibit, involving a theme of Refuge.
As we studied the displays on the walls, I also found myself staring at the floor's tile design, which I remember fondly... and the beams and pillars that were now painted white.
On the second floor, music played as we wandered more gallery rooms. The paintings and films and sculptures were thoughtful and touching and often very sad. I was a little excited to see the swirling pastels on the wall, when our elevator opened to the third floor. We welcomed the colorful mood lift.
Penguins Here and There
The sweet blue mascots were a cheerful break from the serious art. We never knew where we might find one. One blue guy rode the elevator with us. We saw another parked in front of someone's door.
Our Deluxe King room was full of surprises. There was no Granny decor, like 4 years ago. No window unit. No wooden coat rack. No wallpaper and lace.
We entered our room and stepped into a hallway. The bathroom was to the right and the window on the left, faced an atrium. I spotted a skylight above and workout room, below.
The windows in our guest room were frosted. I had to climb a chair to get a view of the brick buildings. We could have paid more for a city view, but we were fine with the odd views.
I loved it that we had our own penguin art above our bed. Across from the bed we had a nice little set up near the TV, with a fridge and Nespresso coffeemaker. Gotta love that pink interior, sliding shelf!
"Sleep with art. We won't tell."
Those were the words printed on the bottom of our key packet. I took the advice and put the comical, Do Not Disturb Man on the door knob and lounged in bed with some art.
There was no bible in the drawer, but there was a book beside the bed, filled with quotes from famous artists. And when I turned on the TV, it was set on a station with art films. I couldn't get away from art if I wanted to. I was pretty content, especially in my lounging robe.
The bathroom was lovely, with wonderful Malin+Goetz bath amenities. But the rubber ducky in the shower, just frustrated me. There was no tub, so I gave the yellow guy a swim in the sink... which by the way is the same refurbished sink from the original hotel.
Dining at 21c
The new hotel has kept the Savoy name for its restaurant and lounge. However it looks nothing the same. This is how the art filled restaurant looks today. The lovely molded ceiling was hidden behind glowing, curved, panels. A penguin stood guard.
Breakfast in 2014
Today's restaurant was once the hotel's barbershop. 4 years ago, the space was used for breakfast and we feasted beside the stained glass, on white tablecloths. Our breakfast back then, was included with our hotel stay. Waiters in white, served everything from Oysters Rockefeller to caviar! A strange contrast to our non-luxurious hotel room.
Savoy Grill... Now the Lounge
Although the fire of 2014 started in the kitchen, much of the Savoy Grill was saved. I was so glad to see the dark, wood pillars and green bar stools. The tables with white linens were replaced by lounge chairs, but the feel of the place was the same.
The western murals and stained glass looked just as I remembered. The cozy booths once again made me wonder about all the famous guests who sat in them since 1905... Harry S. Truman, Vincent Price, John D Rockefeller.
The Bar in 2014
Don and I have good memories of Savoy Grill's bar, chatting with the bartender in his bowtie. I believe his grandparents had worked at The Savoy. Maybe his grandfather waited on my table when I ate at The Savoy with my grandmother in the 1970's. Even back then, I remember feeling like I had stepped back in time, when we dined.
No Bowties Today
There were no bowties behind the bar, but lots of suspenders and beards. It got incredibly busy and it was amazing to watch the bartender's multi-tasking skills.
The bar got livelier as the evening passed. I laughed with the woman next to me about the cute, pineapple-topped skewer, holding my olives. Don chatted with the bartender, about his pineapple arm tattoo. We were surrounded by interesting and friendly people.
Where Did the Penguins Go?
My new friend, Rashida and I decided we wanted to have a penguin join us at the bar. I offered to find us one, but the penguins suddenly seemed to be missing. We had a Penguin Mystery.
Rashida's friend went to inquire. It seems that a Taylor Swift concert had caused the hotel to have a higher number of young people. The kids were evidently hogging the penguins! Luckily we were able to track down one penguin in the dining room and borrowed him for a while.
Don and I kept it easy and ordered dinner at the bar. The chef did an amazing job with our simple meal of salads and burger. Before heading up to our room, we wandered a bit, enjoying the lively feel of the hotel. I made sure to check out the glowing hall before we got in the elevator. It looked totally different.
A part of me definitely mourned the old hotel, odd as it was. But I am so grateful for the 21c renovation, bringing a whole new life and energy to a place that could have just closed forever. What will I remember most? The whimsical stuff and of course those sweet blue penguins!
Hotel Savoy Write-Up from 2014:
The Gumbel Building from 1904
Okay, we stayed at a Hampton Inn, in Kansas City. I barely want to admit that. But I'm a lot more okay with staying at a chain hotel, when I know that a building was saved from demolition.
The Fancy Stuff
At first glance the 6-story, corner building did not really impress me. But apparently, The Gumbel Building was Kansas City's first large commercial office building, of reinforced concrete.
The concrete building didn't thrill me, until I paused to look high up. There were some mighty fancy eagles, near the top of that old Gumbel building.
Entrance on Walnut Street
The lobby felt bright and modern. The stairs led down to a very nice fitness room, that I had all to myself the next morning.
Sitting Area and Bar
The bar area was actually very pleasant. However, Don and I ordered a drink little later and the young guy tending bar, had the TV turned to an obnoxious reality show. The blasting sounds of a drunken beach festival, filled the lovely lounge area.
6th Floor Room
I asked nicely, for a room with a view. We were sent to a 4th floor room that had a view of a roof parking lot. It also had a mysterious stinky odor. When I tried to brighten the room, I discovered 3 lamps had no bulbs. I suddenly had 3 excuses for a room change. Our room on the 6th floor was better. The rolling bathroom door was a little wonky, but everything else was good.
Out the Window
It wasn't the world's best view, but I could see the eagle, when I looked to the side! That kind of delighted me. And we had a comfy chaise lounge with a mini-desk. The bed was luxurious and the bedside tables had pull-out extensions, for those who have lots of travel clutter, like me.
Our weather was lousy, but we were still able to travel on foot, to many places from our hotel. The valet guy was good about letting us know which areas were safe for walking.
I loved coming back after dark and seeing the building lit up.
There was a complimentary breakfast spread, that was decent enough. There were newspapers available and good seating options and I loved the large windows.
I was a little surprised when one of the staff members broke into song. Is this a Hampton Inn thing? She sang us a welcome song, which must have taken a lot of guts, since the "audience" seemed kind of sleepy and cranky. Her voice was good and I wonder if we were supposed to tip for that?
Maybe I'll try to remember the American eagles, perched outside our room. I love a hotel with an animal memory!
Excelsior Springs, Missouri
Don and I arrived at this rambling, limestone hotel on a gloomy, damp September afternoon. I knew little about the hotel as we approached, except that it had been a luxurious health resort about a century ago.
Open in 1912
I had read some cranky traveler reviews before our arrival, so my expectations weren't high. But as we walked towards the building I was excited. The price was right, the retro roof sign was welcoming and the rounded structure in front, pleased me. I'm often easy to please.
Before we even stepped inside I was already checking out the porch seating. Don and I love a hotel with good outdoor lounging space, especially when storms are headed our way.
Honestly, I should not read hotel reviews. What were those people complaining about in their write-ups? The lobby looked fine to me, after its 20-million-dollar renovation in 2011.
The Old Stuff
Fireplace & Piano
The brick and limestone fireplace looked extra cozy. Too bad the weather was still warm and muggy. And too bad we didn't have a pianist to fill the lobby with a little music. Too bad there was no in-house orchestra, like the hotel had back in the day.
A Car on the Floor
Also in the lobby, we had a car, sitting right on the old tile. I'm not sure if that's the kind of car Al Capone would have driven, but he was a frequent hotel guest and often hosted illegal gambling parties.
Upgrade to the 5th Floor
Don and I had reserved a room at the cheapest rate of about $100. We were a little surprised when the woman checking us in, casually mentioned she was upgrading us to a 5th Floor Royal Experience Suite. Our elevator opened to a pleasant lounge area and then we headed down another hall, to our suite. I'm still not sure what we did to deserve the bonus!
Room 500 -The Roosevelt Suite
What a giddy surprise to step into a sprawling suite, when we'd been expecting a room. I will admit, the carpet was a bit worn and the decor felt a little dated, but Don and I weren't complaining a bit. And to think FDR stayed in this room, when he secretly came to treat his polio in the mineral waters...
Well Maybe Not
The Great Escape!
Our corner room had a couple views, but I liked the one with the fire escape best. Not only could we see the pool and gardens, but we could see our escape route, if needed. It's always nice to know your emergency plans, when staying in a hotel that has burned down twice before. The first Elms Hotel opened in 1888.
More of our Sweet Suite!
Our living area, with 3 windows had lots of space. But there was plenty more to explore. The area leading to the bedroom, had an eating bar and wet bar with fridge, microwave and Keurig coffee maker. The bathroom was quite roomy with its marble vanity, holding 2 sinks... plus a whirlpool tub and shower!
Sometimes historic hotels have smaller rooms with odd set ups, that have us fighting over the one bedside table. I will admit, Don gives in nicely when that happens, but there was no best side with this bed. Our cozy bed was tucked into an interesting wall unit with 2 closets and 2 tables...2 good lamps and numerous luxury pillows. Perfect.
Walk Before the Rain
The rain was headed our way, so we got out to explore the grounds. We could have had the pool to ourselves!
Gardens to Ourselves
Staying on a weekday in September, meant we didn't have to share any of the outdoor property! If it had started to pour, we could have dashed to the gazebo... and reenacted the scene from Sound of Music... and no one would have been around to laugh. But it still wouldn't have been pretty. Neither of us sing and I don't look like I am 16 going on 17...
The gardens and pathways were lovely, even with hazy skies. When I spotted the horse shoe pits and picnic tables and stone barbecue grill, it made me long for a family reunion. After wandering, we decided it was time to head back and find a place to relax.
Restaurant - "88 at the Elms"
We had planned on having drinks outside, but the 2-story restaurant off the lobby looked intriguing.
I climbed the stairs and looked down, wondering what the restaurant looked like in the 1930's. Instead of seeing a mural featuring Al Capone, we might have spotted Al himself or "Pretty Boy" Floyd or Bugsy Moran.
Ashley at the Bar
Don and I had drink at the bar before dinner, where we got lots of interesting scoop from Ashley, our bartender... while Harry S. Truman looked down from another mural. Unlike FDR, It's not a rumor that Truman stayed at The Elms. On election night, back in 1948, Mr. Truman enjoyed some of the spa features before retiring to his suite, where he listened to the radio for election results. Hard to imagine, but true.
The European Lap Pool
After moving on to a fabulous dinner in the restaurant, Don and I changed into suits and headed on a long journey in search of the lap pool in the basement.
We were glad that we'd gotten history of the pool from Ashely, or we might have totally missed the lap pool experience! Just finding the underground secret, was an adventure. Don and I were pretty excited to lay eyes on one of only 3 of these specially designed pools in the country.
Also knowing that there had possibly been a murder in the area, back in the gambling days, added an extra thrill. But mostly it was fun trying to enjoy the therapy of the 3-island set up!
Circling the Islands
I started by walking around the smallest island first. That's how the more feeble "guests" would have begun their water fitness.
The Glowing Sign
After the intense work out, we dried off an started the long journey back to our room. By the time we made it to the lobby, I realized I needed to run outside to see if the sign was lit. It was! The hotel and sign looked a tiny bit eerie, through the drizzle.
Morning with 5th Floor Treats
We slept well and woke to a rainy day. There was a nice continental breakfast served on our floor and we enjoyed it back in the room. The night before, we'd returned to our room and to find a note from the concierge with drink vouchers and a snack of meats, cheese and nuts in our fridge. I guess we missed our 5th floor happy hour.
It's sad to know that The Elms will never be what it once was, but I'm totally okay with that.
There may be no fox and hound hunts on the grounds, now. I saw no ladies playing bridge on the veranda. But for the price, we had a heck of a time enjoying ourselves and imagining the glory days. I'll remember the good food and friendly staff and most of all the curious circular pool in the basement!
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!