August 24, 2001
In the previous dissertation regarding some long-gone Perry restaurants, I purposely held back on one of them, simply because it seemed to merit a moment in the spotlight all by itself. I am referring to the dining room at the St. Louis Hotel, perhaps one of the finest in its time and certainly a favorite for the traveling salesmen who frequented this city on their regular trips through here.
The St. Louis Hotel was a two-story red brick building just off the southwest corner of the courthouse square, at 716 Cedar street, where Dr. Bryan Busby’s dental office now stands. Dr. Busby’s single story brick building was constructed from some of the bricks salvaged from the St. Louis Hotel’s demolition. The hotel was a large one and its bricks were sold to contractors and others in many parts of the state when the old building was torn down. Many of the finest homes in Oklahoma City were partly built with bricks from the St. Louis Hotel in Perry.
It was a fairly large hostelry and one of its most endearing qualities was the family dining room on the ground floor. Food was served there family-style, meaning all you could eat, and it was tastefully served. Tables were covered with real cloths and most times the flowers were freshly picked. The atmosphere was a restrained gentility, not hustle and bustle. In the early 1900s, long before the interstate highway era dawned, the St. Louis was a regular stopping point for traveling salesmen and families on vacation. Some of the drummers scheduled regular stops here and kept room reservations at the St. Louis because they found it a safe, clean, friendly place to spend a night or two while on the road.
In the early 1900s Mrs. A.H. Kite was the hotel “proprietess,” according to an ad in the 1904 Perry City Directory. The ad also states that the hotel had steam heat and baths, plus new sample rooms where merchandise could be displayed for prospective purchasers. Room rates were $2 a day. The directory shows that Roy Kite, who may have been the son of Mrs. Kite (they had the same residential address), was owner-operator of the Bijou Theater at 603 Delaware street, where some of Perry’s first motion pictures were seen. The directory gives the hotel address as 716 Cedar and refers to it as “the New St. Louis Hotel.” That adjective must have been dropped after the business came of age. Perhaps that also was when the restaurant was closed because of declining clientele.
In my own personal memory bank, I recall that the hotel and restaurant were operated by Mrs. Kite’s daughter and son-in-law, John and Ella Vandenberg. The Vandenbergs had a son, John Jr., and a daughter, Virginia, who helped out at the hotel. For a time, the St. Louis Hotel also was the local Western Union office. Prior to World War II, one of Mr. Vandenberg’s daily weekday duties during the noon hour was to deliver to the Perry Daily Journal newsroom a rather lengthy report on Oklahoma livestock and grain markets for use in the paper that afternoon. I still retain the image of Mr. Vandenberg trudging north up the alley between the St. Louis Hotel and the newspaper office to deposit that report. John Jr. later graduated from the University of Oklahoma law school; Virginia and her husband operated a Victorian-era restaurant in Edmond and called it “Vandenbergs.” The menu featured miscellaneous information about Perry, the Cherokee Strip and Virginia’s family here.
As stated at the outset of these pieces about early Perry restaurants, this is not a truly comprehensive report because a large number of good eating places are not included, but perhaps from this readers can detect at least a small taste (pardon the pun) of what our ancestors experienced in another age here on the prairie.