An original architectural drawing of the complex1


PARK INN HOTEL/CITY NATIONAL BANK TILEWORK--MASON CITY, IA

General Description:
“In the early 1900s, Mason City, Iowa, was booming. Successful attorneys James Blythe and J.E.E. Markley…[served] 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… .” Frank Lloyd Wright was hired to design the hotel/bank complex, and construction was started in 1909. Wright departed to Europe with his mistress, and construction management of the project was assumed by his associate William Drummond. The hotel opened in 1910.2
 
“The Park Inn Hotel was the third hotel designed by Wright and served as the prototype for Midway Gardens in Chicago and the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, which was torn down in 1962.” Wright designed only six hotels, and the Park Inn Hotel is the only one that still exists. “Unfortunately for the Park Inn Hotel, a new 250-room hotel with all the latest amenities was constructed in Mason City in 1922, creating stiff competition for the Park Inn Hotel. In addition, the farm crisis led to the closing of the City National Bank when [it] was merged into another local bank. By 1925, four of the five banks in Mason City had failed. In 1926, the City National Bank building was sold separately and underwent an unsympathetic remodeling into a new commercial use in that year. The upper floors of the Park Inn Hotel were eventually subdivided into rental apartments and over time the unique Prairie School design elements such as stained glass skylights, fixtures, furniture and woodwork were removed or lost. For the next several decades, the Park Inn experienced a gradual decline that ended with its closure in 1972.”3
Materials Used/Technical Information (size, manufacturer, etc.):
According to Richard D. Mohr, an Arts and Crafts and tile historian, one of Wright’s two projects that used art tiles was “...a strange hybrid, the City National Bank and Park Inn Hotel… . Stretching along a whole block...the complex first consists of a bank that looks like, in Wright’s own words, ‘a strong box on a large scale’ and then a hotel that looks like an apartment building. The upper half of the bank is ringed with imposing pilasters that have white enameled brick at the bottom and a mix of these bricks, art tiles, and sandstone trims at the top. ...from the tiles’ distinctive glaze palette, puddled glaze texture, and clay bodies, some of which are intentionally exposed, we know that the tiles are by Grueby Faience… . Though the tiles are simple of shape--rectangular tubs or basins with their rims and bottoms glazed in contrasting colors--they are not stock items. The most distinctive feature of the installation is its use of the backs of tiles… . Interspersed among the outward facing glazed surfaces are either tiles that have been turned glazed faces inward or simply unglazed blanks made of Grueby’s distinctive, red-clay bodies.”4 (Emphasis mine--MP)
Photo of tilework courtesy of Richard Mohr4

Year Installed:
1909-1910

The bank (left) under construction, 19101

Does Installation Still Exist?
Yes. The complex was restored in 2010-2011 by a preservation organization “Wright on the Park, Inc.”. However, the architects in charge of the restoration “reglazed” some of the tiles, according to WOTP: “The colored tiles and tile backs on the exterior of the hotel are original.  They have been cleaned and reglazed. The blue tile on the columns near the entrances to the lobby are also original.”5 (If “reglazing” means “painting”, the distinctive Grueby glaze on some of the tiles may be gone.)

Pat Schultz, the Director of WOTP, also notes that "As all of the non-historic additions were removed in the former banking room of the City National Bank, in the brick columns of the upper section there were found ribbons of iridescent glass in the horizontal grout lines.  It was damaged and some was missing, but we had it reproduced – after much searching for a glass company that could do it (on a hundred year old machine they drug out of their warehouse).  It could not be exactly replicated as the original coloration was created by the addition of arsenic. ...But over 400 pieces of glass are now back in the columns."6 According to Richard Mohr's article irridescent glass was added to the grout lines in at least one other Frank Lloyd Wright project, the Meyer May House fireplace in Grand Rapids, MI (1908-09).4

The architectural firm that supervised the restoration wrote to WOTP, “We wondered if the terra cotta tiles were Grueby, but there was no indication on the original drawings, and no marking on the backs of the tiles that would indicate any maker (obviously we didn’t remove every tile, but those that were loose or damaged didn’t have a marking). As you know, the original floor of the bank/skylight room was long gone. A quick glance at the original drawings (without a magnifying glass) doesn’t show any indication of the original bank floor material, although I assume it would have been a hard surface such as tile. The tile floor in the lobby and [hotel S]kylight room is almost entirely original, with the exception of 15-20% that was replaced due to previous removal or damage. We pulled up several tile[s] in our attempts to match colors, and again, there was never evidence of a maker mark on the tiles. The red tile in the lobby/skylight area is terra cotta. The white tile is porcelain..”7
(Richard Mohr explains that "Since some of the tiles were to be used back side out[..., t]hey must have requested them not to be signed.  There is no doubt, based [on] the glazes, that they are Grueby.")8

“Since the renovation was an historical renovation, the rework had to model the original as closely as possible.  One of the most difficult challenges was returning the bank portion back to its original two-story height.  This area had been changed into a three-story structure…[http://www.peterbeers.net/interests/flw_rt/Iowa/City_National_Bank/city_national_bank.htm] to accommodate a variety of businesses, and turning it back to the original two-story configuration [http://www.mtidry.com/news/articles2011/P.I.Hotel_Bank.html] was a real engineering challenge.”9
A pilaster after restoration. Photo courtesy of Wright on the Park, Inc.

Location of Installation:
15 West State Street, Mason City, IA
GPS Coordinates:
43°9′6.44″N 93°12′6.77″W
Additional Information, Websites, Citations:
1http://www.steinerag.com/flw/Artifact%20Pages/ParkInn.htm#Postcards, all the picture post cards and old photos come from Douglas Steiner's massive website for everything Frank Lloyd Wright, "The Wright Library", http://www.steinerag.com/flw/index.html. We are grateful to Mr. Steiner for his permission to use this material.
2http://wrightonthepark.org/about-us/hotel-history/. “Wright on the Park, Inc.” (http://wrightonthepark.org/) formed in 2005 in answer to Mason City’s plea for a local group to come forward and assume the rescue of The Historic Park Inn Hotel.   It is the mission of Wright on the Park, Inc. to own, preserve, maintain and educate the public about The Historic Park Inn Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Pat Schultz, the Director of WOTP, was very helpful when I needed contemporary information about the Park Inn Hotel and its restoration.
 4Richard D. Mohr, "Art Tiles in the Prairie School: Part I", Journal of the American Art Pottery Association, Fall 2011, Vol. 27, No. 4, pp. 30-31 and Ill. 41, p. 39. This is the first in a series of articles written by Dr. Mohr about tilework and the Prairie School of architecture. Copies can be obtained from the AAPA at http://www.aapa.info/.
5Email from Pat Schultz to Michael Padwee, 06 Aug 2012, 1:23 PM, “RE: Grueby tiles at Park Inn Hotel”
6Email from Pat Schultz to Michael Padwee, 17 Aug 2012, 10:09 AM, "RE: Grueby tiles at Park Inn Hotel"
7Email from Pat Schultz to Michael Padwee, 06 Aug 2012, 1:44 PM, “RE: Grueby tiles at Park Inn Hotel”
8Email from Richard Mohr to Michael Padwee, 06 Aug 2012, 11:11 PM, “RE: Grueby tiles at Park Inn Hotel-1”
9 http://mtidry.wordpress.com/page/2/ (There are more restoration photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtidry/6050753468/)
10Photo taken by Bobak Ha'Eri, on June 9, 2012 and contributed to Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2012-0609-ParkInn-SkylightRoom.jpg

Submitted by and Year:
This installation was suggested by Richard D. Mohr and submitted by Michael Padwee (tileback101’at’collector.org) in August 2012.

Two close-up photos of the pilaster tilework, courtesy of Richard Mohr.

The next four picture post cards courtesy of Douglas Steiner1

The second floor, below, now has office space.

Tiled floor in the hotel’s restored Skylight Room. The tiles are probably Grueby tiles.10

Two columns

Distinctive white and blue Grueby glazes.





The next three photos are pre-restoration images of the exterior tilework from the Wright On The Park archives.



The tops of three columns
(Click on any photo to enlarge it)