December 4, 2023

Restoration of Pawnee Hotel continues

In recent months, Pawnee Hotel renovator Jay Mitchell and his team have focused on the…

Restoration of Pawnee Hotel continues

In recent months, Pawnee Hotel renovator Jay Mitchell and his team have focused on the second through eighth floors (the floors with 144 hotel rooms) — cleaning, sorting, identifying and evaluating furnishings.

They continue to search for more matching items.

The plan is to reopen the historic, 1929 centerpiece of North Platte as it once was, an eight-story, downtown hotel.

The process involves an immense amount of research behind the scenes into furniture and fixture manufactures of previous eras, such as the Crane company that made bathroom fixtures and the St. Louis electrical manufacturing company.

Even when Mitchell is offsite tending to other projects or doing research and directing the Pawnee project remotely, a steady small crew has often been at the hotel, clearing individual rooms and itemizing the contents.

He is excited because they have found a lot of useable items in the restoration. They found more furniture and fixtures in the rooms than expected, and in remarkably good condition.

“There is now no square inch that we haven’t seen and analyzed,” Mitchell told the Bulletin. “I’m more encouraged than ever that the Pawnee will be the most originally preserved hotel in the nation when it’s complete. The number of original fixtures and furnishings that we have found and been able to preserve is quite stunning. This is almost never seen in a renovation like this. The Pawnee is extremely unique.”

As of late-November, the upstairs 144 rooms are all cleared and sorted. Work was recently completed on the last floor of the process — the eighth.

Mitchell said there is very little clutter left in the building. Items are sorted and have been identified. The process of removing recently added closets and built-ins has begun, getting back to the basic layouts that existed when the hotel was built. The plaster repairs have started on the second floor and will move upward to the third and fourth floors, and so on.

Work on the roof and windows that his crew did previously to secure the building is holding up well, he said. After securing the building, the crew stripped away layers of paint on the first-floor lobby, coffee shop, bar, and dining room to uncover the original décor.

The next step will be to start restoring rooms to their original look, reusing as many original furnishings as possible. The oldest 1929 furniture will be used on the lower floors and as one ascends, the furniture will step through the decades, reaching to the latest, 1966, furnishings that was the last round of furniture that was bought before the hotel closed and the retirement facility opened in the late 1970s.

The crew has also started work on the renowned second-floor ballroom and is determining how best to restore it. It is the last room in the entire building that is yet to be cleared and cleaned. He says one day the six original chandeliers will hang again in their proper places from the ceiling, in the center of “rosette medallions” that were crafted into the original plaster.

He said individual hotel rooms are workable. Bathrooms are solid and retain their original, basket-weave black-and-white tile flooring. The walls and floors are in good condition, with little-to-no water damage.

When the work is all finished, the vision is to end up with about 100 functional hotel rooms.

The interior of the hotel is made of concrete, so the walls are essentially cement. Mitchell said the electric and plumbing lines run through pipe-chase compartments in the walls and floors so they can be replaced.

As work continues, small items have been found that hold a great deal of historical charm, and spark the imagination. For instance, bottle openers are mounted on the inside of the bathroom doors, which was an intriguing, somewhat unexpected find.

And, more expectedly, small wall plaques in the rooms remind guests to turn off the lights and return room keys to the front desk when they leave.

(This report was first published in the Bulletin’s Nov. 30 print edition.)

An old Pawnee postcard, touting 150 modern rooms. The actual number was 144 rooms. (Courtesy Jay Mitchell)

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