Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2006 | People

Architectural Advocate: Robert McCoy

By Shelbi Thomas

The fate of the world's only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel is close to Robert McCoy's heart.

As chair of the preservation committee for the Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, this retired orthopedic surgeon is part of the effort by the Wright on the Park organization to restore the inn to its former splendor. He and other volunteers hope that by 2010—the building's 100-year anniversary—guests will once again dine beneath the hotel's stained glass ceilings and enjoy the balcony view of the town's Central Park.

"It's going to be a beautiful hotel with modern creature comforts and the ambiance of the world-class architecture that emerged out of the first decade of the 20th century," says McCoy, 60MS, 60R.

Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Park Inn Hotel marks a pivotal moment in Wright's architectural development. Its open floor plan, horizontal lines, and overhanging eaves inspired some of Wright's most famous designs, such as Chicago's Midway Gardens and Tokyo's Imperial Hotel. Yet, before McCoy and other volunteers began work to save it, the inn languished on the Iowa Preservation Alliance's list of Ten Most Endangered Properties.

McCoy's passion for architecture began when he brought a house in the distinctly American Prairie School style that Wright popularized. "It went up for sale, and the owner asked us to look at it," he recalls. "That proved fatal!"

Through researching the house's history, McCoy learned that Mason City is full of these rare structures. In fact, besides the hotel and the adjoining City National Bank designed by Wright, the town can claim one of the country's largest groupings of Prairie School houses.

To help save such noteworthy buildings for posterity, McCoy holds leadership positions on various historic preservation councils, earning honorary membership on the American Institute of Architects for his efforts. Even when the hotel restoration is complete, McCoy's work will continue. He's currently raising funds to build an interpretive center to share Mason City's unique architectural history.

"[All of us volunteers] feel we're doing something important," he explains. "Frank Lloyd Wright is America's most famous architect and arguably the greatest in the 20th century. It would be a shame for [his work] to go down the tube."