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The Saint Paul Hotel, at Age 100, Remains a Focal Point
 for the City's Social and Political Lives

y Brandon Ferdig, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 11, 2010 --Elegance. Charm. Tradition.

For the past century, the St. Paul Hotel has served as the social backbone for the leaders of our city and state. And it has been the symbol of the city for the presidents, celebrities, gangsters and countless other travelers.

As former Mayor George Latimer put it, it is "more than a hotel."

To recognize 100 years packed with history, its operators are planning a celebration that will rewind the clock and highlight not only the hotel's past, but also that of the city sharing its name.

It was the early 1900s and St. Paul was a burgeoning city of 214,000. Lucius P. Ordway, a local businessman and one of the original 3M investors, had a grand plan -- a luxury hotel that was "demanded by the growth of the city." He bought the site in 1908 and work began. It would be billed as "St. Paul's Million Dollar Hotel."

The hotel featured a grand ballroom, fine dining, a roof garden and guest rooms with scenic views. It featured three sets of elevators -- each with its own operator. The hotel's lobby had palm trees, marble columns and a gift shop. Three chandeliers of Waterford crystal glistened above.

Its April 18, 1910, opening was just as grand.

<>According to the next day's edition of the Pioneer Press, the ceremony was "in the presence of an assemblage such as no other occasion in the state's history has ever drawn together at one time and place." On hand were local railroad tycoon James J. Hill, Gov. Adolph O. Eberhart and Archbishop John Ireland.

Over the years, the hotel has ushered bandleaders to stardom. It had tunnels that likely connected it to bootleggers. Its taverns and restaurants have hosted many an unofficial government gathering.

It has survived recessions, urban decay and even its own closing in 1979.

But much like its opening, the city's leaders rallied for the landmark, renovating the hotel and reopening it a few years later. For them, and for those who walk within its doors, it has become St. Paul's hotel.

BY THE NUMBERS

Opened: April 18, 1910

Rooms: 264

Suites: 31

1910 room charge: for one person, $2 to $4

1958 room charge: $14

2010 room charge: $159 to $799

NOTABLE GUESTS

Theodore Roosevelt -- legend has it that the National Park Service was launched during meetings that took place within the hotel.

On Sept. 13, 1947, Gene Autry and his horse Champion checked in for eight days.

The nation's most powerful leaders have stayed there, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In 1960, candidate John F. Kennedy addressed 500 at a reception in the Grand Ballroom, with 17,000 supporters outside the hotel.

For Luciano Pavarotti, building engineers needed to adjust the height of his couch, because it was difficult for him to sit and get up.

Leon Gleckman, the "Al Capone of St. Paul" set up shop -- bootlegging -- on the third floor. The FBI is said to have been listening in.

--KSTP-AM started its broadcasts at the hotel in 1928.

--Lawrence Welk got his start playing gigs at the hotel in 1937.

--The most luxurious room is the Ordway Suite. Features include: granite-countertop bar, big-screen TV, eight-person dining table, living room. Cost: $799 a night.

--The main entrance originally faced the corner of St. Peter and Fifth streets. But it was moved to face Rice Park during a major renovation engineered by civic leaders working to reopen the hotel.

IF YOU GO

The birthday bash planned for the hotel's 100th year allows visitors to travel through time as party rooms are decked out in the style of past eras.

When: Saturday, beginning at 7 p.m.

Cost: Tickets are $100 a person and are available at www.saintpaulhotel.com or by phone at 651-228-3860.

Extras: Additional packages include overnight stays and Sunday breakfast.

Benefit: A portion of the proceeds will go toward the beautification of Rice Park.

Source: Pioneer Press archives; St. Paul Hotel archives; Paul Maccabee, author of "John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks' Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936."

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To see more of the Pioneer Press, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.twincities.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

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