Frank Lloyd Wright: Master of light and space

If you can’t live in a Frank Lloyd Wright house, the next best thing is to stay in one. How wonderful that the only remaining hotel designed by the famous architect has been restored to its former glory.

The Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, Iowa – best known as the birthplace of Meredith Willson, composer of The Music Man – opened in 1910 to great fanfare. But during the Great Depression and over the following decades it went downhill, until by the 1970s it was little more than an empty shell full of pigeons and cobwebs. A non-profit group bought the hotel from the city for just $1 and, after spending around $20m, renovated the building as a classic example of Prairie School architecture.

Both the Park Inn Hotel and the City National Bank (left) were designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and completed in 1910. The Park Inn Hotel was the last Wright-designed hotel in the world, and a complete restoration of the distinctive brick and terracotta façade as well as art-deco glass windows has been carried out. It epitomizes his dictum that, “Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”

In the early 1900s, Mason City, Iowa, was booming. Successful attorneys James Blythe and J.E.E. Markley were among those spearheading growth. Serving on the board of directors of the City National Bank, which contemplated expanding, they saw the opportunity to meet multiple needs with one plan. A new building could provide a home for the bank, new offices for their firm, and a much-needed hotel.

At the time, Markley’s two daughters attended Hillside Home School in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The school boasted a beautiful building designed for the two sisters who ran it by their nephew, Frank Lloyd Wright. Impressed with the design, Markley proposed the architect for the Mason City project. With his innovative Prairie School designs, Wright was well-established in Oak Park, Illinois, where other like-minded architects also worked in his studio.

Wright came to Mason City and the project took on life. In 1909, however, Wright’s elopement with the wife of a former client left its completion in doubt. Fortunately, as associate stepped in and the buildings were completed according to Wright’s original designs. One hundred and one years after its opening, the Park Inn Hotel, its exterior restored to the original design and its interior rehabilitated, again stands as a lasting tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright.

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