Archive for Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Old hotel to again welcome boarders

May 1, 2002

Shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday, Anna Hansen's heart was pounding. The bids were rising fast and furious and hers was one of the highest.

A few minutes later, when the bidding stopped and her heartbeat slowed, she found herself owner of a new business venture the century-old historic Almeda Hotel.

To Anna Hansen, who purchased the house with her husband, Darlyn Hansen, the $130,000 bid was a bargain.

"I'm very pleased to get it for that price," she said. "Depending on how you look at it, some people might look at it as an old rundown place that hasn't been occupied for years, and other people might look at it as a treasure to be dusted off and uncovered again. There's so much history you look at the doorknobs in there you wonder whose hands have touched them."

Hansen, who plans on July 4 to reopen the hotel as a bed and breakfast, said this has long been her dream.

And, she said, if all works out, she hopes to follow in the footsteps of the hotel's original owner, and open a restaurant.

In the early 1900s, Mollie Myers' cooking drew diners from near and far. The many who stopped for a meal at the Myers Hotel included Gen. J.J. "Blackjack" Pershing and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Until 1934, the hotel also was a bus stop and is said to have inspired Kansas playwright William Inge's "Bus Stop," which in 1956 was made into a movie starring Marilyn Monroe.

In 1940, new owners Mr. and Mrs. Vern Barber and their daughters, Wilma and Almeda, changed the name to "Almeda Hotel." During the 1950s, Almeda operated a beauty shop in the southeast room. And in the early 1980s, Almeda and Richard Tinberg renovated the hotel into a bed and breakfast, operating it until 1996.

Eyeing Almeda's

The hotel's crisp white siding, rambling structure and stone front, as well as its history, had long intrigued Hansen.

"I asked Almeda at least ten years ago to let me know when she was going to be selling the bed and breakfast," she said. "At that time, she wasn't interested in selling. Then a year ago when I found out she had fallen and hurt herself and was in the nursing home, I contacted the family and let them know I was interested in buying it."

She said she talked to members at Heartland Community Church of the Nazarene.

"I asked our church to pray about it that we'd be doing the right thing," Hansen said. "So they've been praying about it for a year and then when I saw the sign go up front three weeks ago I said, 'Oh my gosh it's finally going to happen it's here.'"

The Hansens checked on codes and zoning, talked to a banker and church friends, about eight of whom attended the auction.

"They all grouped around us and started praying," she said. "We just really turned it over to God saying this is your deal and if it's going to happen it's going to happen for you."

Restoration plans

The hotel includes five bedrooms upstairs, five downstairs, including a two-bedroom apartment, and two rooms to the west. The bedrooms do not have private bathrooms, and most are small, she said.

"When this was built, this was built for people traveling through the area and they just needed a place to sleep," Hansen said.

"In the future I would like to be able to put some new rooms on the flat roof area to the north," she said. "We would like to have some areas where we could have queen-size beds, or king-size, maybe."

More private baths would be a good addition, too, she said.

And Hansen has plans for the public area of the hotel's first floor, saying she's considering adding a European-lodge touch, decorating with animal skins and antlers, and decorating one room with World War II memorabilia. She wants the dr to be inviting to men, as well as to women. She said: "We'd like to make it family friendly."

Like the rest of the 300 or so people attending the weekend auction, Hansen bid on the hotel's furniture.

Among her buys were a hall tree and walnut dresser that she thinks may have been in the original Myers Hotel, a round oak table and chairs, a dresser, library table and rocking chairs.

She was glad to be able to return the various pieces of furniture to the hotel.

"You could almost see it smiling as we were bringing it back in," she said.

As soon as possible, she plans to begin opening the hotel to the public for receptions, gatherings and corporate meetings.

Hansen, who has lived in Tonganoxie for 13 years, works for Kansas Gas Service. Her husband operates a service company for banks. The Hansens plan to continue working their current jobs and living in their home while operating the bed and breakfast.

When the reality hit that they were new owners of the property, Darlyn Hansen said he told his wife: "This is the end of our lives as we have known it."

The couple's youngest child, Haley, a seventh-grader, said she plans to help.

'Quite and odyssey'

"We hope to help elevate Tonganoxie to a destination, not just a rest stop along the journey," Anna Hansen said.

Robert Hunter, who lives next door to the hotel, said he's glad the hotel will reopen.

"I think it's great," he said. "This place is a part of history. I love to see old places get put back to where they should be it's going to be a big job."

Late Sunday afternoon, after wrapping up the two-day sale, auctioneer George Warren said he had expected a lot of interest in the property.

"It went fast, yes it did," Warren said. "I was well pleased."

And Linda Freeman, a great-niece of the late Richard Tinberg, who had helped family members prepare for the sale, said nostalgia, as much as the items on the auction bill, had drawn visitors.

"I had a lot of people say they stayed here long ago and there was a piece of furniture that was in their rooms, a rocking chair or a desk, that they wanted to bid on."

Freeman said she was glad the hotel's legacy would live on.

"I'm thrilled," Freeman said. "I'm glad someone bought it who is going to put it back like it was."

Anna Hansen said she wants to live up to that type of expectation: "I just feel so privileged, and also honored, that we could be the ones that could refurbish it and carry it on the way Mollie Myers would have liked. It's been quite an odyssey."

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