The Hotel Marion at NW 10 and Broadway is probably familiar to most OKC Central regulars. It’s a heart breaker of a building that passed through several owners before landing with the MidTown Renaissance group a few years ago. Give Bob Howard, Mickey Clagg and Chris Fleming credit, they’ve shown their dedication toward renovating and properly restoring their older buildings, but the Marion is the one building that eludes even bravest of souls in the development world.
Downtown Brainstorming is just that – using the collective experience, observations and imagination of OKC Central readers to help solve problems such as the Marion. It will be done when the key decision makers indicate they welcome such input, and in this case, we have the go-ahead from Mr. Howard himself.
Before getting into the complications surrounding the Marion, let’s revisit some stories about the hotel’s history that help show why it deserves a new shot at life.
The hotel was built in 1908, making it, I believe the oldest surviving structure downtown after the razing of India Temple last year. In 2006, after the building was bought by MidTown Renaissance, I heard from one of the descendants of the hotel’s original owners. J. Malcolm Haney’s grandmother, Bess L. Haney, operated the hotel from 1946 to 1971.
Malcolm correctly recalled the hotel’s east facade for years had a sign that boasted it was “The Nicest Small Hotel You’ll Find.”
“This place has a very special place in our family’s past,” Haney told me. “Our safe haven was staying at the Marion with Bessie in room 110, which had two single beds … Many of Bessie’s rooms were occupied by permanent residents, including three terrific small apartments in the basement. It was the last place many army recruits stayed before they shipped off to boot camp because the U.S. Army recruiting center was across the street.”
Haney’s cousin Bob Villareal recalled the hotel’s telephone booth had a ventilation fan that turned on upon entry.
“You could put your finger in the fan without injury,”
Villareal said. Villareal still remembers the hotel’s corner room, home to an old radio and his grandmother’s parakeet. Photographs from Bess Haney’s lifetime were displayed throughout the hotel.
“I’ll never forget the smells in that old place,” Villareal said. “There was a certain aura about the hotel that’s hard to put in words, but it always felt peaceful and happy. Of course, it was never the same without Bessie. She was the heart of the Marion.”
More recently, my worthy competitor Brianna Bailey at the Journal Record shared even more about the hotel’s history. She shared how the Marion was next to an Army recruiting station, and the Haneys saw countless young servicemen from across the state off to the Vietnam and Korean wars over the years.
Malcolm Haney told Brianna about how the hotel’s old-fashioned soda pop machine that would dispense soft drinks in glass bottles for 10 cents.
“Bessie had an old-fashioned telephone switchboard and would patch people through to the rooms,” Malcolm Haney said. “It was a warm family place and Bessie was the matriarch of the family.”
So what went wrong?
Haney told Bailey that time was the enemy with downtown descending into decline in the 1970s. Chain hotels drew customers away from the Marion.
“Bessie fought the battle of any small hotel operator against the large chain hotels and she fought the downfall of downtown of ’60s and ’70s,” Malcolm Haney told Bailey. Bess Haney’s five children asked their then-elderly mother to retire from the Marion in the 1970s, and she died in 1984 at the age of 95.
So we have a nice historical, architectural gem with a warm and fuzzy history to make us all go “awwwwwwwwww.” With that done, let’s get the harsh slap of reality started.
The building is a mess. The interior consists of rotting wood. The roof is barely there. As I pointed out on this blog a few months ago, the dreadful appearance of jigsaw cracks has emerged along the building’s corners.
Here’s the good news: Bob Howard KNOWS he’s going to lose money with this building. He is no fool. And as Rep. David Dank pushes to eliminate historic tax credits, understand it’s buildings like this that become impossible to save without such assistance. Tax credits saved the Skirvin hotel. Tax credits saved the Gold Dome. Tax credits saved the Sieber.
But tax credits won’t save the Marion. It’s just not enough. Howard says he’s prepared to make this his contribution to the community. He appreciates the history and architecture of the Marion. And if money were the only concern here (understand, however, Howard isn’t going to bankrupt himself on this either), then I doubt the Marion would be our first Downtown Brainstorming candidate.
Talking to Howard and his partner Fleming, it’s clear that one risks killing the Marion if one is to save it.
The interior must be gutted. That means that support beams must be put in to prop up the facade walls much as Marva Ellard did with the old grocery building section of the Sieber. But the Marion is a very tight spot, locked in by properties with different owners.
It is surrounded by occupied buildings, and the parking is heavily used by the law firm to the west. The street, NW 10, is a major corridor that would be a nightmare to shut down, if city folks were willing to even entertain such a move. And even if the Marion had some working space around it, the engineering on this is a puzzle.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the readers make OKC Central special. The conversations are a step above what’s found elsewhere on the ‘net, including the comment sections on NewsOK. I’m proud of that, far more than anything else I’ve accomplished with this site. You’ve been around the world. You’ve followed urban design closely. You’re argumentative, but respectfully so. You bring new ideas. You love downtown Oklahoma City. You’re proud of what’s been done. You’re not satisfied that enough has been done. You’re always pushing for it to be better. And you want to solve downtown’s biggest problems.
Here’s your chance. Are there landmarks elsewhere in the world that have had similar challenges? How were they overcome? What can be done to make the Marion a feasible renovation?