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The Hotel Durant, recently revealed by the beginning stages of a building remodel by Curt Walker, was once the vision of a handful of Durant citizens who realized that the successful future of their city was dependent on the comfort and convenience of visitors.
In September of 1925 a “Hotel Committee” appointed by the Chamber of Commerce, traveled to Oklahoma City to meet with the Huckins Hotel Company to secure a “new, modern hotel” for the city of Durant. It wasn’t the first trip made by Robert Story, T. K. Webb and Howard Holmes, nor would it be the last. The Huckins Company was involved in much bigger projects and they weren’t interested in the small hotel desired by the businessmen of Durant. However, Mr. Huckins did offer the committee some excellent advice: let Hockenbury System, Inc. of Harrisburg, Pa. conduct a “hotel survey.” They would do it for free and then discuss their findings regarding community need, support and return on investment.
In November of 1925, Mr. Franklin L. Campbell of Hockenbury System conducted his survey and made his report to the chamber. He stated that “I have never seen a town where the possibilities for a new, modern hotel paying a satisfactory return on the investment were better than they are in Durant.”
Apparently, there were many factors to consider because the newspaper later reported that the hotel committee had been “studying the local hotel situation from almost every possible angle” and a meeting of interested citizens was not called until July of 1926. Several proposals were considered in “another effort” to secure the approximately $225,000 needed for the construction.
In the end, it was a couple of local men - Amos K. Bass and J. D. Abbott - who came to the rescue and invested in the project. Once work began on the Abbott-Bass building, crews actually worked at night to “complete it as soon as possible.” The target date for the 60-room hotel on West Main Street was January 1, 1927. In November, Louis Lee and his wife arrived from Wichita Falls to manage the hotel. They were experienced in the hotel business and had operated them in Texas and California. They didn’t miss the target date by much:
February 8, 1927
Opening Dance at Hotel Durant Ballroom Tonight
Young folks are looking forward eagerly to the dance to be held in the Hotel Durant ballroom as one of the features of the new hotel. This is expected to be a very nice affair and a large number of dancers should take this opportunity of helping open the new hotel. The music will be furnished by the Southern Melodians. The Hotel Durant ballroom has a hardwood dance floor 120 feet in length and 40 feet wide.
The ballroom was “just back of the lobby” and Mr. Lee charged $1 for gentlemen dancers. Ladies were admitted free. He was so pleased with the dance that it became a regular Friday night event and featured bands from several towns and colleges in the area.
Also opening that night was the Kimbriel Pharmacy, offering “drugs, magazines, tobacco, candy, and other supplies” in the lobby.
The hotel received many compliments on its “beauty and conveniences.” From the beginning, it had a reputation for good food and hospitality and hundreds of meetings, conventions, conferences, and events were held in the hotel during the 46 years it was in operation. However, while consistently serving the community, the hotel couldn’t seem to keep the same person behind the counter for very long.
It’s difficult to accurately follow the entire chronology, but as early as April of 1927, after a contract dispute and a quick lawsuit, Mr. and Mrs. Otto Sherry, from Oklahoma City, took over operation of the hotel.
In 1932, Fred Lowry sold his interest and lease back to Mr. Abbott and Mr. Bass. Marie Morris managed it for them and Mr. Lowry stayed on as night manager. Olin Wren, who began his career at the hotel as a bellboy when he was thirteen, bought the lease in January of 1948. In November of 1949 he sold it to A. H. Pettyjohn of Wichita, Kansas. S. J. Bateman became the manager and was still there when the hotel closed in 1969. Of course, the public benefited from each transfer as the hotel was redecorated, remodeled, and refurbished by each new manager.
May 27, 1969
“Announcement was made this morning by Kay Bass, his brother Clark, and sister Mary Jane McPheron that the landmark brick hotel will be sold at auction June 7, 1969.”
Business had been steadily declining, the hotel was a fire hazard “because of elderly occupants smoking in bed,” and the rates had fallen to $1-$2.25 -“lower than when the hotel was in its heyday.”
So the hotel that had once been the dream of Durant finally closed its doors.
The Hotel Durant served our city for more than four decades because our ancestors had the vision and determination to make it a reality. It’s exciting to see it take on a new role in the next phase of downtown development.