August 10, 1996
The Elite Hotel, one of the storied jewels from another age in the life of the Perry community, is about to be restored to its original pristine luster. Renovation will start within a few days on the proud old two-story building on the north side of the square to make it once again a showplace downtown hostelry serving travelers passing through this area.
Clyde Speer, now the owner of the building, has given the go-ahead to workmen and soon we will see scaffolding erected around the outer shell to permit acid cleaning of the brickwork and tile surfaces. The first stage will concentrate on scouring away decades of weather damage and dirt off all the exposed surfaces. Interior renovation will follow.
Clyde, site attendant at the Cherokee Strip Museum and the offspring of a pioneer Noble county family, is deeply concerned about maintaining the historic integrity of the building and promises that it will not be compromised. The architect's original designs will not be altered. Where material has to be replaced, it will be with something as nearly like the old material as possible. Fortunately, the Elite Hotel building has not been subjected to some of the glitzy plastic-age veneers often seen on old structures. Aside from the accumulation of dirt and the ravages of Oklahoma wind and weather through the years, it looks very much as it did in 1936. It's fixable, if just a little run down at the heels.
Clyde has been mulling over possible uses for the venerable buff brick structure since purchasing it several months ago. Although the building could be adapted for many purposes, Clyde has concluded that a hotel, the use for which it originally was intended, is still the best plan.
The present building was constructed in 1936 by the late Walt Kehres. Prior to that, Mr. Kehres had operated the Elite Hotel & Restaurant in a two-story wooden building in the same location since 1915. The new building replaced the last frame structure remaining on the downtown square.
In the recent past, Georgia Curtis has had a new, used and antique furniture collection on the ground floor level of the building with a unique museum on the second floor, where Mr. Kehres' hotel was located. Mrs. Curtis decorated each of the upstairs rooms in a motif according to the pieces displayed there. It has been a major tourist attraction for Perry visitors. If you have not seen it yourself, you should do so as soon as possible.
The Elite (always pronounced E-light by Perry folks) has been a local institution since Mr. Kehres started the business in 1915, but a hotel was located on the site even before that. One familiar photographic "bird's eye view of Perry," perhaps made before statehood in 1907, clearly shows the old two-story building standing with a large sign proclaiming "North Side Rooms" appearing across the top. Clyde is looking for 1936-vintage photographs for historic documentation and to use in promotional efforts. If you have photos of the old building from that era in your family collection, Clyde would like to see them. He also is looking for any anecdotes about the Elite during the days Mr. Kehres ran the business. Give him a call if you have a story or photo to share.
I have my own memories of the 1936 Elite building construction. At the time, I was the local carrier for the Oklahoma News, a Scripps-Howard newspaper that was competing for readers with Mr. Gaylord's dailies in Oklahoma City and throughout the state. In Perry, the News had exactly 12 customers. Ten of them were businesses around the square but the other two were on opposite sides of town -- Dr. J. W. Francis at his residence near Fourteenth and Fir avenue and someone else whose name I have forgotten, but who lived in the vicinity of Jay Dauman Park. The Sunday morning papers arrived from Oklahoma City by bus at 4 a.m. and the Elite was the bus station at that early hour because it stayed open all night. Billy and Lucile Reckert's Palace Cafe on the east side of the square, the regular bus station, closed around midnight. I picked up my pitiful bundle of papers in the pre-dawn light and dutifully delivered each one. George McManess, the West Side Barber Shop proprietor, used to give me free 35cent haircuts in exchange for the paper.
During the construction work, the sidewalk in front of the old Elite was closed and a temporary wooden building was erected in the street to house a lunch counter and coffee service. That was the temporary Elite Restaurant and the late night Perry bus station while the new building was going up. The job started in November 1935 and was completed the following March.
The next Northwest Corner will continue with more details of the construction of the new Elite Hotel & Restaurant in 1935-36.