By STEW MAGNUSON
|The Windsor Hotel. Photos by Stew Magnuson|
There are many grand old hotels along the 1,885 miles of Highway 83 that date back to the golden age of rail travel.
When it came to travelers, the railroads lost out to the automobile and airplanes early last century. Hotels in the center of bustling downtowns consequently lost out to the motels — motor hotels — out by the highways.
One of the grandest of these old hotels one encounters on Highway 83 is the Windsor in Garden City, Kansas.
It’s a majestic building that dominates the downtown as one approaches on what is now Business 83 from the north.
The Windsor closed its doors to customers in 1977. Like many old buildings in the prairie climate, it began to deteriorate. Its placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 was important, but that designation doesn’t do anything to guarantee the survival of such a large building.
After visiting Garden City recently, I’m happy to report that the community’s effort to save this beautiful old building is gaining momentum.
The Finney County Preservation Alliance, which owns the property, has hired its first full-time employee, Brian Nelson, as its executive director.
I found him in one of the first floor storefronts, which is now open to the public.
The alliance is taking a step-by-step approach to preserving the building.
A recent campaign to raise $39,000 to save the hotel’s iconic copula surpassed its goal with an extra $3,000 to spare, Nelson reported.
His hiring was another important step, as was a new board of directors that has settled on a long-term vision for the building. For many years, different boards had different ideas about what to do with the hotel, Nelson said. Now, that vision is more settled.
It’s certainly a building worth saving, historically and architecturally.
|The Windsor's copula|
Town founder John A. Stevens opened an opera house next door in 1886 and the hotel in 1888. With its 125 rooms, elegant copula, three-story atrium lit by natural light, and mahogany trimmings, it became known as the “Waldorf of the Prairie,” according to an article in the Spring 2015 Kansas Historical Society magazine, Reflections.
His rival was the town’s most famous resident Charles Jesse, “Buffalo” Jones, who opened a block-long hotel to the north.
It was built in the Renaissance style of native stone and locally made bricks and became a center of social life in the city with its ballroom hosting events and famous restaurant catering to well-heeled travelers and local businessmen. Buffalo Bill Cody was one of its many famous guests. The well-heeled stayed in the finely appointed three-room President’s suite on the top floor.
The Windsor changed hands many times through the years. When it closed in 1977, it was by order of the local fire marshal, which says something about how far it had declined.
Down the street from the Windsor is the markedly less interesting — at least architecturally — Warren Hotel. This was where writers Truman Capote and Nell Harper Lee stayed while doing research into the Clutter murder case in nearby Holcomb. The result was the book, In Cold Blood. (For more of this story and Buffalo Jones, read The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83:Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma, available online or at the Finney County Historical Museum gift shop.)
The Warren, which also ceased being a hotel decades ago, has been preserved with businesses on the first floor.
Across the street, Garden City has another project to renovate the State Theater into a multi-purpose entertainment and community center.
Nelson said the next step for the Windsor is to open a small antique mall with about eight booths in the first floor storefront where he works. He’s applying for grants to change the fluorescent lights to something more appropriate for the Windsor.
The nonprofit will still need about $520,000 to make the whole building stable enough to attract tenants, according to its website.
As for the long-term plans: “That’s something we’re continuing to look at,” Nelson said. The upper floors maybe converted to apartments or the building may even return to its roots as a hotel.
To find out more about the Windsor or donate to the cause, check out the alliance's website. Click HERE. Or for updates, join the Save the Windsor facebook page.
The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, available at Amazon.com and bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83. And The Last American Highway: Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma edition.
To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at www.usroute83.com. Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a) yahoo.com