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!
Family Farm in Postville, Iowa
My Iowa Dream!
I lived my first 10 years in Iowa, but my father was a college teacher and I hardly have a memory of a farm. It has been my dream to go back to Iowa and stay on a farm!
When our car tires crunched over the gravel drive, the farm pets were first to notice. After a few kitty sightings and a sweet greeting by Rover the lab, we met our host Donna.
Donna and Rover took us to our barn. It was perfect!
Most barns don't have porches. But being a big fan of barns and a fan of porches, this was going to be my dream stay. Never have I stayed in a hotel, B &B or Inn, with a view like this! Ahhh, Cornfields!
This was luxury living as far as barns go. I've never seen a barn with kitchen and fireplace. It was homey-rustic, with everything we needed!
A Corny Bathroom
The wall around the bathroom door was made from old barn wood, showing some of the original red paint. Between the slats was yellow & green, corn-print fabric. I was glad to see a modern toilet and a shower curtain as nice as any Marriott's. But the sheep's water troth made for some amusing showers! The rectangular sink could have been 100 years younger than the desk it was built on. And all I could do was laugh at my image in the yoke framed mirror as I washed my hands!
Up in the Silo
The silo from the old barn couldn't be saved. But at least we knew this new one, which enclosed the spiral staircase, was plenty sturdy. The Dales thought of everything. They even had a small nightlight under one of the steps, to make it safe. The view from above was pretty fun!
We had 3 options for sleeping up in the loft. On one side there was a queen bed with picket fence headboard. Or we could have made our selves cozy under the quilt in the smaller "wagon wheel" bed. A cat walk away, was another sleeping area with a full sized bed.
Exporing Every Nook
Rain had been predicted, so I was thrilled that we had time outside! Don spent a little time with his uke and a sleeping, white kitty on the porch. I couldn't get over the corn! I wandered along the edge of the field until I got a good glimpse of some cows!
I packed a lot of silly stuff for this 22-day road trip and my "farm apron" was included. I had hoped I might get to do at least one farm chore during this stay. Donna did indeed humor me and she let me collect eggs with her. It was a hoot going in the coop and watching the hens feast on their dinner while we gathered up the brown eggs. Donna pointed out how the chickens like to crowd their eggs into 1 or 2 areas. "I think they spot an egg and figure it's a safe spot and then they all go for it. They end up getting cracked sometimes."
Eggs Put to Use
In the morning Donna carted a couple loads of breakfast goodies to our kitchen able!
There was a wooden box with dishes and placemats, drinking jars and cold chocolate milk. In the "cooler" we had all the hot stuff along with a list of where all our homegrown and homemade goodies came from!
There was an egg, potato and cheese bake in one skillet and crispy bacon in another hot dish. We had baked apples and a giant puff pancake served with pure maple syrup. All washed down with a a big pot of coffee!
Not So Luxurious
Arriving on a Tuesday meant we were checking in with lah-dee-dah business folk who weren't a bit impressed with the grand lobby. I took it all in like a happy tourist. The grand 2-story atrium was once again open. It had been closed in for years to make room for extra meeting space.
Clean and Fresh
We've actually seen a lot of lovely stained glass in historic hotels, but this one seemed bolder and brighter than most. I wasn't able to find out if this was the original stained glass or if it was lost when the atrium was closed up. New or old, it's a nice addition.
More Royal Gold
Cary Grant was here with his wife in 1986. He felt ill and was unable to appear at the nearby Adler Theatre. It's not clear whether he died in room 901, or in the nearby. It's sad to think I was walking through the last place where Cary Grant walked before his death. I kept an eye out for his ghosts.
Our Room.. not on Cary's Floor
Our hall was not on the same hall as Cary Grant's room. In fact his room doesn't even exist anymore. During renovations they shuffled space and his room is no longer available. But I'd say our room seems nice enough for a movie star. Cushy and spacious, modern and comfy. We don't usually get all that with our stays at historic hotels.
Room with a View
It was hard to get to the big windows behind the bed, but there was a good view of the Mississippi! I love a river view! What I did't expect, was a view of the bathroom!
Shutters and TV Mirror
So the shutters were interesting. (No glass of course) But the bathroom TV cracked me up. I've seen TVs in bathrooms before, but this is the first TV built into a mirror that I've seen. I was sort of like a dog noticing a mirror for the first time. I wanted to keep touching those people on CNN to see what would happen.
Blackhawk Bowl and Martini Lounge!
Martinis and Dinner
We actually saved the martinis for the lobby bar which was having a half price special. Then it was dinner in the Bix Bistro, just off the lobby. My very "whippy" pumpkin bisque was almost as yummy as the chocolate torte that we took up to the room. The dessert was just one more freebie perk for hotel guests!
Making Use in the Morning
Don and I were determined to get our money's worth out of our hotel. By sunrise, I was working out in the fitness center and Don was swimming laps in 3rd floor pool. There was a great outdoor deck with lounge chairs and a river view. Wish we'd had time for a coffee out there!
Oh, and maybe that bowling alley. That was pretty memorable. Our first hotel with a bowling alley!
Above the Mississippi
It was a bit nerve wracking just getting to the mansion. We drove through a somewhat seedy area to find Bird Street. Then we found the limestone bluff and wall beside the entrance. We made the narrow turn in through the gates and wound up the drive, wondering about some of the boarded up houses below. Was this area safe?
Georgian Revival Style
We parked in a nearly empty gravel lot and wandered to the entrance. It was as impressive as I remembered from a visit 25 years ago.
The 13,500 square foot mansion was situated on a lovely lawn near a trickling fountain... but there was something a bit eerie about the peeling paint and the quiet. What were we getting ourselves into?
We entered through the front doors and stood sort of gasping at the enormous staircase and the eerie beauty of the formal entrance. Was anyone there? What were we supposed to do? Then Juan, the owner appeared. He was giving the final 4:00 tour to a couple from Georgia. Juan stood at the base of the stairs when he invited us to join the tour. That was the very spot where Mark Twain stood on a raised platform to speak with a group, on his last trip to Hannibal in 1902.
Taking it In
We moved from the airy, pink & green music room to the cozy men's study with dark woodwork and heavy Persian carpets. I couldn't stop grinning as I took in all the details about the 30 room residence. Mrs. C. liked white painted wood, Mr. C. insisted on having electric and gas lighting.
Giggling through Bathrooms
"And y'all are going to be the only guests?" He said, shaking his head. I wasn't sure which seemed more strange, the idea of being the only guests in this mansion, or sharing the mansion with a couple like Mr. and Mrs. Georgia. I decided I was glad we'd be the only guests.
Evening at the Mansion
Our tour ended and the Georgia couple departed. Juan officially checked us in and invited us to relax on the porch where he brought us a tray with wine, fruit and cheese. We chose the shady porch near the carriage entrance, since the sun was pretty warm.
An hour earlier, we had really questioned what we might be getting into. Not only had we heard stories of Rockcliffe being haunted, (Mr. C. died in his bed in 1924) but we were to be the only guests. Our host, would also be staying in the house. Would he be ready to protect us from the sketchy neighbors in the houses below? But what if our host was a Norman Bates type of host...?
This is the dramatic, divided staircase we took to the second floor. But then we had to take the servant's staircase to the third level where our room awaited.
The Sage Room
If we'd spent a little more money, we could have stayed in Mr. C's room. We would have had a fireplace, ceramic Roman tub, square wood toilet seat AND the bed where Mr. C. died. (At least I think)
But, we were on a road trip budget and happy to sleep in a less deluxe room, where the servants once slept. Actually it was a sweet, cozy room with a full size bed. The servants who shared this room wouldn't have had a bed this nice.
We actually had the entire third floor to ourselves. There were 2 guest rooms, which had been servant's quarters. However, only one is rented one out at a time. We also had a sewing room, a ballroom and a classroom!
The ballroom was a tad spooky at night. It was filled with a hodgepodge of things from a spinning wheel to a mannequin. In the early 1900's it would have been kept empty for formal gatherings.
Later the Cruikshank daughter moved into the white house and then her mother joined her. I wondered about who lived there now.
Dining with Mark Twain?
This is the dining room where I imagined Mark Twain dining, during his visit 112 years ago! Maybe his spirit was joining us for breakfast... but 8 am may have been too early for old "Sam".
Our Own Feast
It was fun to imagine the Cruikshank family dining in this beautiful room, as we sipped our coffee in gold rimmed cups, by the light of the Tiffany lamp. We started in on some yogurt with berries and a plate of fresh fruit.
And then the French toast, bacon and sausage arrived. Juan didn't join us for breakfast, but we did visit a while. Then he offered us a peek at the latest project.
We climbed the stairs, one more time. This time we went past the second floor, with this great view from the balcony. We climbed higher than the third floor...
The Widow's Walk
Juan showed us the latest renovation, on the flat roof at the very top of the mansion. The small white structure will soon have new windows installed, looking out on the widow's walk that surrounds it. What a fun view to enjoy, before we departed!
The drive up looked different. I didn't remember seeing the street-lamps, 4 years ago.
As we approached the beautiful mansion we could see they were in the midst of exterior renovations. That's a good thing. We want this place to be around forever.
Just the Same
We were so glad to see the familiar interior. The Turkish room was Don's favorite. It looked as amazing as we had remembered. I had fond memories of the porch and visiting with Juan. This time we had wine and cheese with Warren, as well. We felt right at home!
Third Floor Changes
Once again, Don and I booked a third floor room. This time we had the newly renovated Governess' Room. The ballroom down the hall, also had undergone a facelift. The ceiling and wallpaper in both rooms was just amazing. So many designs and angles. Just beautiful!
In the morning Don and I had a decadent breakfast in the gracious dining room and heard some amusing stories from Juan and Warren about the recent wallpaper and streetlamp projects. Don and I were relieved to see that Rockcliffe was in good care.
Before taking off, Warren steered us towards the third stair, where Mark Twain once gave his talk. We should have quoted a famous line or two, while we posed for a photo.
What a fun revisit! Maybe Don and I will surprise ourselves and really break our 1-stay habit, by returning for a third visit!
CCC Lodge Near Grafton, IL
Just As We Remembered
This is what Don and I were both eager to see! It had been a few decades since our last stay. We were glad to see few changes in the grand open space with log beams and comfy lodge furniture and the giant chess board! The only new addtions were the sort of odd "patchwork leaf quilts" hanging from the beams.
All we needed was cold weather so we could enjoy a fire in the massive 50- foot limestone fireplace. No fire, but we could still enjoy the big green chairs!
And More Chairs!
I had forgotten how many sitting areas there were! There were rattan chairs gathered around a tabletop game of shuffle board...
The Historic Wing
We hiked up a flight to room 222 in the Historic Wing.
There have been lots of renovations since the lodge was completed in 1940. We like old, so we didn't want a room in the new addition. Sadly the only thing that hinted at old, were the windows. It was nice having an updated flat screen TV and a decent bed, but I was kind of hoping for some log beams or some of that big chunky lodge furniture. Or how about a picture on the wall. I think they forgot?
But the windows were great, offering a view of the Illinois River along with a warm fall breeze! And we had the added treat of champagne and chocolates, as well as a $50. voucher for dinner. I'll admit, our package was more about numbers than romance. We were on a 22-day road trip after all. We just did the calculating and this was the best deal.
What the room lacked in rustic decor, it made up for with good bathroom counter space and a checkerboard table with checkers! It even had a Kuerig coffee maker, which was a surprise in a State Park owned lodge. We never expect frills.
Then and Now
Don and I stayed at Pere Marquette in the fall of 1985. I remember sitting in Adirondack chairs on the back terrace. It was a little cooler and we had the place to ourselves, staring out over the sloping lawn to the Illinois River.
The Adirondacks have been replaces by metal tables with umbrellas. I missed sitting in those old wooden chairs, but the view was just the same.
Plus, I had a place to put my glass of wine when I took a photo.
And then I had my turn to pose.. on the very log where we propped our feet, years ago.
Dining at The Lodge
On a Sunday evening the dining room was packed with families feasting on fried chicken and other lodge favorites. The place was thinning out when we arrived after sunset and we could tell the staff was ready for "Apple Festival Day" to be over. I was eager to try the Goat Cliff Soup, I'd heard about. Our server nearly sneered as he told me there was no such thing. Maybe that just means Soup of the Day? I was afraid to ask again. I ordered pot roast and Don ordered salmon. It was tasty and the seats were so comfy we wanted to linger forever. But we took the hints from the yawning staff and moved along.
Don and I made it a point to amuse ourselves by asking her questions every time she came to our table. I don't believe she ever had 2 feet on the ground at once. She answered every question with one sentence as she moved away from our table. I'm not sure why she was in such a hurry? There was hardly anyone there.
Admiring the Fireplace
We spent a little time studying the stone fireplace with all the harvest decor. I hope our waitress didn't hear me complaining. I love real pumpkins and wheat, but I get really tired of cutesy scarecrows and fake leaves. You know you've been on the road for 9 days when you start getting picky about things like that.
Let me end with some photos from our morning walk, before we checked out. Pere Marquette is an absolutely beautiful State Park.
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!