by Karen Workman
I am always up for exploring and so is my favorite co-pilot, my husband, Eric, who is also a pilot. When I suggested a weekend in Perry, Iowa, he immediately responded with, “Where? Why??”
Perry is a map point in central Iowa with a population of less than 8,000, most of whom work at a pork processing plant. This blue collar town was once a prosperous railroad community. Evidence of its glory days are well preserved in historic “Hotel Pattee,”” smack dab in the middle of downtown. The grand luxury hotel has 40 individually themed guest rooms. There is the Italian Room, the Woodworkers Room, the School Room, and the Central American, the Asian, and the Train Rooms. You get the idea? Each room is decorated in a unique style.
That is what I heard, anyhow. I wanted to explore this fascinating hotel myself. Since a flight there would take less than two hours from the Twin Cities in my Piper Cherokee, I thought it would be a perfect little weekend get-away.
We flew to Perry on a sunny, if not blustery, day in late April. Thirty miles northwest of Des Moines, the airport (KPRO) was easy enough to find on the edge of town, surrounded by muddy fields of corn, soybeans and pigs. The winds favored Runway 14 (4,000 foot paved) with a quartering crosswind, although a grass crosswind runway was available.
Upon landing, we saw no activity in the sky nor on the ground. The only sign of life was a person sitting in a red Taurus sedan parked in the shaded area between the FBO and large hangars. “That must be our ride,” I thought. I was right.
The general manager of the Hotel Pattee, Connie, had left her child’s track meet to pick us up. “This is the first time we’ve ever picked up a guest from the airport!” she exclaimed. We unloaded and secured the plane then walked into the fixed base operation.
There was a man apparently waiting for us behind the counter inside the fixed based operation, amidst the clutter of aged and important notices, a nearly full “barrel” jar of orange cheese balls, and a bowl of popcorn. We spoke with him about charges and our departure plans, then loaded Connie’s car and headed into town. The drive took about 10 minutes.
We were impressed with the Hotel Pattee. Built in 1913, the three-story brick exterior had a big city look with a permanent oversize canopy extending from the double glass doors, across the sidewalk to the street, and a huge diamond-shaped copper “HP” monogram artistically set in the brick sidewalk out front.
Luxurious touches continued inside: high ceilings with heavy wood trim; paneled walls with frosted glass doors; and generous copper accents throughout. A handsome staircase spiraled up three floors, its marble steps softened with a rich tapestry runner. The two-sided, floor-to-ceiling sandstone fireplace in the lobby invited us to settle into one of the comfy leather mission-style chairs.
We carried out bags up to the Italian Room on the third floor. The room was identified with an embossed leather sign outside its door, as were all of the doors in the hotel.
“You’re going to love this,” Eric said as we stepped in. An elaborate filigree chandelier illuminated our room’s hallway, which was long enough to hold a large, gilt-framed original painting on one side and several standard sized pictures on the other. The expansive room was filled with antique furniture, ornate lamps and unique art pieces, giving it a rich sense of old-world Italy. The original built-in wardrobe, six doors wide, dominated one wall. The other half of the wall was a deep window seat piled high with colorful tapestry cushions. The entire room was a plush riot of color and texture.
Excited to have found such a treasure of a hotel, we left the room to explore more. We discovered the two-pew chapel within, and an intimate two-lane bowling alley in the basement. The bowling alley was 100 years old and retained much of its classic elegance in the carved wood seating and ball racks. Shoes and balls were there for our choosing, so we bowled three games with all the joy of two kids stumbling into a secret cave. What fun!
Venturing outside, we felt that we were on a very interesting vacation. The entrance to the alley between the hotel and the next building was a shipwreck. That is, a high arched entry gate over both ends of the alley was made of galvanized parts of an old ship, the USS Illinois. Beams, wheels, sprockets, hooks and other large pieces of the vessel were welded together to create an artist’s park entrance. The alley itself had fanciful brick work on the ground and cast iron bistro table sets strewn across its length. To ensure you would always have company, a bronze man is eternally seated at one of the tables with his own cup of coffee in hand.
Although the hotel has a full bar and restaurant, we were compelled to try the small Salvadorean restaurant within walking distance, El Buen Gusto. Again, we were not disappointed. We ordered four papusas for only $6.00. I know that a restaurant is serving authentic native food when I need to ask the waiter for a description of the menu items and then how to eat them. This place was authentic. And the food was super delicious.
We spent several more hours exploring. We found intriguing places around every corner: an old five-and-dime store crammed full of every little thing you could imagine; the Caboose Park with its colorful caboose-turned-concession stand and orange picnic tables; and the impressive Carnegie Library Museum built in 1904. This town is big on sitting, too. A bench can be found on every block and in front of many buildings.
We departed after a late breakfast the next day, fully recharged.
Author’s note: More information about the Hotel Pattee can be found at www.HotelPattee.com. To arrange for an airport pickup to the hotel call 515-465-3511. Bicycles are available in the hotel lobby, too, if you want to take advantage of the area bike trails.
NOTE: We have just been notified (August 15, 2013) that the Hotel Pattee has closed their doors. Fortunately, the town would really like to see the hotel re-opened, so it may be at some future time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Karen Workman is an Instrument rated Private Pilot living in Northfield, Minnesota, and owns a Piper Cherokee 180D.