March 29, 2005
Mason City, Iowa. — The Park Inn Hotel stretches across most of a downtown city block. It's made from thousands of light colored bricks. The exterior still displays those classic Frank Lloyd Wright art deco lines, but inside it's a mess.
Jean Marinos is Mason City's mayor. She gingerly steps around piles of debris, avoiding dangling extension cords that hang like vines around the lobby.
"Because of the fact that rather than tearing things down, most people who did redecorating mostly put things up in front of it, that's really has saved a lot of the structural integrity and some of the finer parts that you see," explains Marinos.
These days it takes a well-trained eye to recognize those finer points.
Years of neglect have taken their toll. The Park Inn ceased operating as a hotel in the early 1970s. It became a glorified boarding house, slipping further and further into decay. About two years ago, the building was all but abandoned when dangerous mold forced the local chamber of commerce to move out of the ground floor.
Already the city has pumped about $2-million into the building as part of a revitalization plan. But that's only a fraction of the estimated total cost. Mayor Jean Marinos says the final bill is likely to be $10-million.
"Frank Lloyd Wright was a wonderful, gifted, imaginative architect, but a structural engineer he was not," says Marinos. "I think one of the real difficulties in the rehabilitation that they found, with low overhangs and the eaves is that there are some structural problems."
Nowadays the building is a shell. But beautiful stained glass windows have begun to appear in some of the rooms. Eventually there will be many more.
Unfortunately fundraising continues to be a problem. So city leaders have decided on an unconventional strategy. After years of depending on grants and individual donations, they decided to list the property on eBay.
Documentary maker Garry McGee's finishing up a film on the hotel called the Last Wright. He says he skeptical about the eBay proposal but he says something needs to happen.
"Putting the structure on eBay certainly brings the Park Inn into the 21st Century," McGee concedes. "I don't think Frank Lloyd Wright could have or would have ever imagined one of his works would be offered for sale on the computer."
McGee and others are convinced that once the Park Inn is restored to its former glory, tourists will make their way to Mason City in droves. Architecture buffs will be able to spend the night in the world's only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright hotel boosting the city's economy in the process. They'll be new restaurants and bars, and hopefully even some new shops.
But first they have to find that buyer. City officials are working on the language for the eBay listing and hope to have available online in early April.