MASON CITY — Some cities really scramble to distinguish themselves, boasting a ball of twine or some other landmark that … well … the rest of the world thinks of as rather ho-hum. By Joe Buttweiler.|MASON CITY — Some cities really scramble to distinguish themselves, boasting a ball of twine or some other landmark that … well … the rest of the world thinks of as rather ho-hum.
Mason City is fortunate two have two great claims to fame, said Lee Weber: It is the home of renowned composer Meredith Willson and to a rich architectural heritage influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.
“The man is incredibly famous,” Weber, president of the River City Society for Historic Preservation, said of Wright. “And we have two of his projects that we can show to the world. “
The Wright-designed Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank Building are being restored into a 27-room hotel that will open this summer as the only Wright-designed hotel in the world. He also designed the Stockman House, next to which the new Mason City Architectural Interpretive Center has been built.
The interpretive center grand opening will be May 14, Weber said recently, speaking to the Mason City Noon Kiwanis Club. He outlined both projects, saying they will draw architecture enthusiasts from around the world.
To a large degree they already have. Weber recalled seeing a professional photographer from Manhattan and a woman from Germany visiting Mason City a few years ago to see Wright’s work.
They were shown around Rock Glen, the cluster of Prairie School houses just south of the Stockman House, 530 First St. N.E. “Their mouths just kept getting wider. They couldn’t believe this was all in Mason City. “
Since the Rock Glen houses are privately owned they’re not commonly open to tours, Weber noted. The new interpretive center will provide information on them as well as the Stockman House, Park Inn and historically significant architecture elsewhere in the city and state.
The interpretive center, 520 First St. N.W., was built on land acquired in 2005. The new building has a classroom that will seat about 50, a beautiful overlook of Willow Creek, a wealth of information on architecture, and a great view of the Stockman House. It also has restrooms, which is significant because the Stockman House does not have facilities adequate for accommodating tour groups.
Weber, who is also a member of Wright on the Park Inc., owner of the hotel and bank buildings, also provided an update on their renovation.
As with many historic renovations there have been complications, including the discovery of foundation walls that had to be replaced. Restoring the main floor of the bank building to the original elevation and installing utilities where none had been before have also proved challenging, he said.
“Lots of the insulation is from recycled denim,” Weber noted, adding that it deadens sound well. There will be six hotel rooms on the third floor of the bank building, he said, and nice-size suites on the east and west ends of the hotel.
The ballroom will be in the area that used to be the banking floor. There will be an elevator in the center to serve both wings of the restored building
“A project like this would be big for any size of a town,” Weber said. “People from the outside will look at Mason City and say: These people are really doing something. “
The hotel will be an ideal site for “destination weddings,” he said, where people come from out of town ñ sometimes great distances ñ to be wed in a special place. “It’s very common now and they spend a lot of money.”
Bookings by architecture buffs are also expected to be significant, given that Wright has fans throughout the world.
The hotel is expected to draw nearly $5 million in visitor spending in the first year.
Tourism is a huge and growing industry in Iowa ñ one of the very biggest economic sectors, Weber said. “We are going to be the jewel in the (state tourism) crown, and hope to be for some time.”
The May 14 grand opening of the Mason City Architectural Interpretive Center will include an open house beginning at 1 p.m.|