SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. (AP) — In the archives at the Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering, Director Amanda Gibbs pulls out one of her favorite photos of the Lincoln Hotel. While traveling through the area with her family in 1925, a 12-year-old girl took candid shots with her camera. The photo of the hotel is slightly crooked, but clearly depicts open windows and balconies.
The photograph is one of several artifacts at the museum that document the 100-year history of the building.
The Scottsbluff Star-Herald reports that the Nebraska Hotel Company built a hotel in Lincoln and then decided to build six other hotels like it throughout the state. The goal was to bring hotels westward into smaller communities. The Lincoln Hotel was to be the premier hotel for travelers arriving in Scottsbluff.
Planning for the hotel began on Feb. 7, 1917, after the company approached the Scottsbluff Commercial Club with the idea. In March 1918, the concrete skeleton was completed. According to the National Register of Historic Places application for the hotel in August 1918, “vandals wedged wooden blocks into the outlet pipes for a large water tank on the roof, causing minor interior damage but not delaying the project appreciably.”
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Construction concluded in October. Six weeks later, with the Lincoln essentially complete, the Commercial Club began planning a New Year’s Eve extravaganza to celebrate the hotel’s opening and the lifting of the influenza quarantine, according to the application.
The hotel saw its grand opening on Dec. 31, 1918, surrounded by fanfare. At the opening ceremonies, local celebrity Miss Bish was there to wish everyone good luck. Among the museum’s collection is the orange dress she wore that night, the dinner plates used in the banquet room and envelopes with their backs bragging about Scottsbluff as the largest irrigated valley in the United States and is on the shortest route to Yellowstone and other national parks.
“It was definitely a big deal out here,” said Olivia Garl, curator.
Hotel officials bragged to the Star-Herald that the hotel was a modern, 80-room fireproof hotel.
“As is rather forcefully expressed by the management, a bonfire may be built in any room, in any hallway, in any part of the building, and it will merely burn itself out,” according to the newspaper.
The Dec. 31, 1918, Star-Herald noted the building was, “concrete and stone are not conductive to spectacular conflagrations.”
The hotel also had its own beauty shop for women and a cigar store for men.
One photograph in Legacy’s archives shows the inside of the banquet hall on April 19, 1928, for the Scottsbluff High School’s junior-senior prom.
“As horribly racist as it is, it’s Native American-themed,” Gibbs said. “And it wasn’t even related to the Native Americans of the area.”
In the photo, the dinner tables were formally dressed with all the accouterments of a fancy dinner.
One of the many humorous stories in the building’s history involves one of the first cooks, a German woman from Russia. As the story goes, in the 1920s, a married man in management tried to begin a relationship with her. She cut off his shirt with a knife and took the shirt to his wife.
The construction of the hotel even affected the building of the Methodist hospital, which originally stood at 18th and Broadway. A hotel was being constructed on 18th Street — the north hotel — and 15th Street — the south hotel — along Broadway. But there was a major influenza epidemic. According to Gibbs, a hospital was a bigger priority. The building completed first became the hospital.
Garl attributes the constant changing of hands and the hotel becoming displaced by the motels along Highway 26 as part of its decline in popularity.
“It was more convenient to stay on the highway than in town,” Garl said.
The “Mighty like a home” building has seen its ups and downs over the years, but Garl is still intrigued by its general and architectural history. Many facades were changed or ripped out completely in the 1960s, transforming its outward appearance. The original finish in the lobby was covered with wood paneling. The interior had a wood and stone trim. The original floors have been replaced with carpet.
When it was built, the hotel was sided with smooth, dressed limestone slabs, brick columns and neoclassical terra cotta entablature. It is now covered by epoxy stone panels and fixed-sash windows in a brushed aluminum frame.
Garl’s fascination with the hotel is how the building progressed over the past 100 years. While many buildings downtown changed over the years, architecturally, you can still tell that the hotel was meant to be grand and stick out.
“I think it’s still kind of a landmark in town,” Garl said. “It does still tower over most of downtown.”
The building was accepted to the National Register of Historic Places on March 5, 1998.
Information from: Star-Herald, http://www.starherald.com