The City National Bank & Park Inn Hotel were conceived during the pinnacle moments of Wright’s Prairie School period. However, it was also a period of great personal turmoil and change for the great architect. His affair and departure to Europe with Mamah Borthwick Cheney meant that he was not on hand for the grand opening, and ultimately it cost him commissions for the Rock Crest – Rock Glen development. “But did ever see it completed?” It is a question posed by many a visitor to our site, and for years we had no concrete answer.
In 2015 a FLW letter appeared at auction that sheds some light on the mystery. The letter is an invitation to dinner to James Markley, who had commissioned Wright in 1909 for the City National Bank and Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, Iowa. The invitation from 1941 indicates FLW’s plan to stay and dine at the hotel March 13-14th , Sadly, Markley a long thought to be a friend of Wright’s passed away two years prior in October 1939.
To: James Markley:
On March 13th I will be in Mason City. – Please be my guest on February (March) 14th for dinner at the Hotel. I will look forward to seeing you –
Frank Lloyd Wright
February 15th, 1941
By 1941, renovations to the City National Bank and Park Inn Hotel would have rendered the site nearly unrecognizable to Wright. The interior had been totally gutted and remodeled after the bank building was sold to A.A. Adams. The bank facade had been penetrated and second story shops inserted in the once grand space,. Brock’s Mercury statues, the bank vault, tellers windows, hotel skylights, art-glass windows, mezzanine, ornamental urns and skylights were removed.
According to the Mason City Globe Gazette, “A somber and stern bank structure metamorphosed into a light, attractive, well arrange store and office building.”
Its doubtless the desecration of the original design would have pleased Wright. In Mason City he already found, ” a city in which the building were rather cheerless in character”.
Perhaps in the future the reason for Wright’s 1941, visit to Mason City will be made clear. For now can only speculate as to the nature on his trip. Was there potential another Wright commision in Mason City? Or was he on his way to Charles City to meet with dentist Alvin Miller regarding his future Usonian? Regardless, we do know that thirty years after he left Mason City Wright returned to find the hotel and bank altered and in a period of decline.