Thank you to Visit Mason City for hosting my stay in Mason City. As always, all content and opinions are my own.
Iowa seems like an improbable destination for world-famous architecture. But Mason City, Iowa (about 30 miles south of the Minnesota border) is exactly that. The small town is home to the world's only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel: the Historic Park Inn.
As I mentioned in my post about Mason City's Frank Lloyd Wright heritage, the Prairie School-style hotel originally opened in 1910 and was reopened in 2011 after a $20.7 million restoration. Today, the Historic Park Inn is a destination for architecture buffs, as well as a great place to stay for anyone who appreciates history and enjoys unique accommodations.
What should you expect from a stay at the Historic Park Inn? Here's what I discovered.
The rooms are completely modern.
Over the hotel's history, it was extensively remodeled—it started off as a combination hotel/law firm/bank, and ended up as a retail space with apartments on the second floor. When Wright on the Park took on the project of restoring the Historic Park Inn, they significantly modified the original floor plan. Originally, the hotel had 43 ten-by-ten-foot rooms; today, it has 27 rooms over a larger footprint, since it incorporates the former law firm and bank spaces.
That renovation means that you can expect all of the amenities of a modern hotel room, like an en suite bathroom and queen or king-sized bed. However, the rooms do have some vintage-inspired touches, like woodwork, textiles with patterns that evoke Prairie School stained glass, and fixtures with classic styling.
No two rooms are alike, so your experience at the Historic Park Inn will be unique. My expanded king accessible room was ADA-compliant and featured a writing desk, loveseat, armchair, and enough floor space for my evening yoga routine. I especially appreciated the control panel by the bed for all of the room’s lights, complete with labels and a dimming switch.
But there’s still plenty of historic character.
When you walk into the hotel, the first thing you’ll notice is the distinctive lobby—the emphasis on horizontal lines screams “Frank Lloyd Wright.” While the carpets aren't original, they are inspired by Prairie School stained glass. The hallways are narrow and dimly lit by today’s standards, and the walk to my room felt like a stroll through a previous era.
There are also the sorts of quirks you would expect from an extensively renovated historic building, like blank doors lining the hallways (which gives you a sense for how small the original hotel rooms were). The floor in my room was slightly slanted, which was only an issue when I tried doing some balancing poses during my yoga routine.
Take some time to explore the hotel’s public spaces.
While my room was spacious and comfortable, one of the highlights of my stay was taking advantage of the Historic Park Inn's public spaces. The lounge off of the lobby has been restored to reflect its original decor, including Prairie School furniture and stained glass skylights. There isn't anything modern in sight—working on my laptop felt delightfully anachronistic, like I had somehow time traveled to 1910.
Other public spaces worth checking out include the mezzanine (it looks out over the lobby and lounge, so you can get some great photos), the elegant ladies' lounge, and the law lounge. On a nice day, you can take advantage of the outdoor balconies that face the park—one can be accessed from the ladies' lounge and the other is adjacent to the law lounge.
You can dine onsite.
Hotel guests and the public can dine in style at the Historic Park Inn’s two restaurants, the 1910 Grille and the 1910 Lounge. The 1910 Grille is located on the hotel’s ground floor, with an upscale atmosphere and windows that look out towards the park. The menu includes salads, pastas, and steaks, as well as a few decent options for vegetarians, like mushroom risotto. Breakfast is served daily, and dinner is served Monday through Saturday.
For a more casual option, the 1910 Lounge is housed in the hotel’s basement and is open Monday through Saturday evenings. The décor is completely modern—there are even Pinterest-style giant initials on the wall reading “FLW”. The bar menu includes craft cocktails, 40 craft and specialty beers, and wine. The food menu is basically the appetizer menu from the 1910 Grille, featuring hummus plates, flatbreads, and salads.
Since I was in the mood for a low-key meal, I opted for the 1910 Lounge. I ordered the Fallingwater cocktail solely for the name—if you’re drinking at the bar in the world’s only Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, you kind of have to get an architecturally-inspired cocktail. It was enjoyable: gin-based and refreshing, with a good balance of sweet, sour, and bitter notes.
I also ordered the roasted red pepper and olive hummus plate and added vegetables for an extra $3. It was truly the largest portion of hummus I have ever been served (well over a cup), and there was a generous heaping of freshly toasted, seasoned pita chips and a decent assortment of vegetables and olives. I appreciated that it was a generous meal vegetarian meal for one, and it would also be a hearty appetizer to split.
Tours are available.
For an in-depth look at the Historic Park Inn's design, history, and restoration, hotel guests and the general public can take a docent-led tour. The hour-long tours are offered Thursday through Sunday, and include the lobby, lounge, and other public spaces in the hotel, as well as the adjacent event space in the former bank.
I highly recommend the tours—on my previous visit to Mason City, I was especially impressed by how the docent made the information accessible to a Wright novice (me) and interesting for the architect/Wright aficionado on the tour. If possible, take a tour at the beginning of your stay, since it will give you a greater appreciation for the hotel's historic features.
You can sit in the chairs.
Do you have a compulsive urge to sit in all of the roped-off furniture when you’re touring a historic house museum? Then the Historic Park Inn is the place for you—you get to sit wherever you want! Granted, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed chairs are not particularly comfortable. But sitting in them is like a stay at the Historic Park Inn—a way to appreciate architectural history by actually experiencing it.
Many thanks to Visit Mason City for providing my room at the Historic Park Inn. I paid for all other expenses out-of-pocket.
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