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Hotel Arrival signals big league status? Only for a while PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jack Money   
Friday, 24 April 2009 20:14


THIS WEEK IN OKC HISTORY - Downtown Oklahoma City celebrated the arrival of both Spring and of an international hotel chain downtown during April 1961.

Sheraton Hotels announced it would begin operating the landmark Biltmore Hotel, effective May 1, and spend more than $1 million to refurbish the grand old dame of the downtown skyline.

“We look forward with keen optimism to applying all of our company’s know-how into making the Sheraton-Oklahoma an outstanding hotel of which the community will be proud,” Ernest Henderson, Sheraton’s president, wrote in a released statement. “It has been our experience that a hotel with the fine qualities of the Sheraton-Oklahoma can, with vigorous rehabilitation, become not only a bustling center of community activities, but can do much to attract new business and new excitement to a city.” (1)

Nearly three decades earlier, the 26-story Biltmore Hotel had opened as Oklahoma’s tallest building, a $4 million project that had proved hard to raise out-of-state cash for and nearly had been shut down in mid-construction numerous times because of resurfacing cash woes.

But backers of the hotel, William B. Storey, president of the Santa Fe Railway, and C.F. Colcord – the same man who built the Colcord Building – always managed to find more cash to keep the project moving.

The hotel changed hands for the first time in 1937, when Dallas Rupe and Son, Inc., of Dallas, Texas, bought it for an undisclosed price.

Dallas Rupe and Son owned and operated the Biltmore Hotel until 1960, when Dan James, owner of the Skirvin Hotels, picked the fading icon up with plans to update the operation and its facilities.

But James only kept it briefly before selling it to Sheraton in 1961. (2)

Under the Sheraton flag, the hotel stayed busy as Sheraton made upgrades, including building a 1,700 seat banquet hall at the hotel.

State Republicans heard former Vice President and soon-to-be President Richard Nixon at the hotel during their annual convention the same month the sale was announced. (3)

Governor Henry Bellmon aired concerns to the American Academy of General Practice at its Oklahoma Sheraton event in 1963, saying he worried about plans to move Oklahoma’s mental health department under Oklahoma’s welfare department. The change would create “a powerful agency in the state that does not have legislative review or checks,” he told doctors attending the event. (4)

James Edwin Webb, an Oklahoman who came to head the National Aeronautics and Space Agency, spoke there, as did I.M. Pei, who talked to young business and professional men at the old hotel about his Urban Renewal plans for downtown Oklahoma City. Harry Reasoner spoke to members of the Men’s Dinner Club on his views about Chicago politics, the riot during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the involvement of the U.S. in Vietnam, and a proposed elimination of the country’s electoral college.

The Association for Responsible Government, a group pushing the reform of city politics, announced its slate of candidates at the Oklahoma Sheraton for city elections in 1967. Ray Ackerman, an Oklahoma City advertising executive, was promoted as the group’s mayor, and Patience Latting, the first woman candidate ever backed by the association, was introduced as a council candidate.

Latting said she saw “no reason why a woman cannot serve actively in politics.

“My husband feels as happy about this as I do … I think it will become a family project,” Latting said. (5)

By 1969, though, rising costs to continue operating the hotel prompted the Sheraton chain to find a buyer. Gotham Hotels, Ltd., of New York, took on the old hotel after paying $1.2 million for it. (6)

It wasn’t all serious business at the hotel, however. After Gotham renamed it the Hotel Oklahoma Motor Inn, it hosted the 1969 Miss Tan Oklahoma City Pageant. (7)

Throughout the 1960s, Urban Renewal had come close to touching the old hotel, but never actually targeted it for demolition.

As late as 1970, in fact, city Urban Renewal Authority officials publicly had said that neither the Hotel Oklahoma Motor Inn or the Tivoli  were targeted for acquisition.

The destruction of other properties around the old hotel, however, significantly impacted its attractiveness as a place to stay or told hold events.

In May 1971, longtime barber Clyde Smith took down his pole inside the old hotel, opting to move his operation where he had cut a million heads of hair during the past 35 years to the Colcord Building and hopefully better business climes.

When he turned the lock on the shop, not a customer was in sight, a newspaper reporter noted. “It’s kind of a sad thing,” Smith told the reporter. “But, maybe it’s for the best. I’m going to a better location, and I guess you have to change with the times.” (8)

In 1972, the hotel’s owner, Gotham, opted to close down the entire operation after Oklahoma City shut off water service to the property because of an unpaid $4,000 water bill.

It operated briefly in 1973 under another owner, but then closed again. In 1975, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based owner said he wanted to tear the old building down so that a new hotel could be built in its place. By 1976, however, that owner was looking for someone to take over its mortgage on the closed property, and both the old Biltmore and the Tivoli were added to Urban Renewal’s acquisition list to clear ground for the planned Myriad Gardens. (9)

 In 1977, a judge authorized the gutting of the hotel’s interior as part of an ongoing foreclosure case on the property.

Later that same year, Oklahoma City’s Urban Renewal Authority acquired the property for $1 million.

A demolition date was set for later in the year, but the old hotel would not give up its spot in downtown’s skyline easily.

Ernie Wells, the man in charge of tearing down the old building, told a reporter he regularly received angry calls from people who had sentimental attachments to the old hotel and didn’t want to see it gone.

On top of that, the building had been made well – really well, he added.

“To tell the trhuth, I didn’t think it would be this hard. This is the best-built building I’ve ever been in. It’s tough,” Wells said. (10)

Eventually, dynamite took the hotel down in a celebration presided over by Patience Latting, by now Oklahoma City’s Mayor. The hotel, a reporter said, “stood for a silent moment in a death salute” before “a shudder swept up her full 26 stories and then the old Biltmore Hotel, and some 45 years of Oklahoma history, dropped from the Oklahoma City skyline.”

The demolition, taking months to prepare, had brought the building down in a scant seven seconds. (11)



1.)    “Sheraton to Spend Million on Biltmore,” The Oklahoman, April 18, 1961

2.)    “Hotel’s Regal Life Comes to Sad End,” The Oklahoman, September 18, 1972

3.)    “GOP Plans for Big Turnout When Nixon Speaks May 27,” The Oklahoman, May 14, 1961

4.)    “Bellmon Welfare Views Outlined,” The Oklahoman, February 05, 1963

5.)    “Ad Executive Heads Slate,” The Oklahoman, March 3, 1967

6.)    “$1.22 Million Paid for Hotel,” The Oklahoman, April 4, 1969

7.)    “So Far, 12 Enter Miss Tan Contest,” The Oklahoman, June 16, 1969

8.)    “Barber Bows to Inevitable,” The Oklahoman, May 29, 1971

9.)    “Galleria, Gardens Link Unveiled for Downtown,” The Oklahoman, September 22, 1976

10.) “Wrecking Biltmore Hotel Not Any Honeymoon,” The Oklahoman, August 23, 1977

11.)  “Blast Topples Biltmore Hotel,” The Oklahoman, October 17, 1977


Last Updated on Saturday, 25 April 2009 02:28