Patterson Hotel / McKenzie Hotel
The Patterson Hotel was a prominent hotel located in downtown Bismarck that was known not only for its luxurious accommodations, but also for its strong political connection; and for its continued construction that spanned over twenty years. For decades, the hotel was the tallest building in the state of North Dakota.
Opened on January 1, 1911 as the McKenzie Hotel, named for local political boss Alexander McKenzie, the hotel was developed by local businessman, and fellow politician, Edward Patterson, who was a close friend to McKenzie. The hotel’s name was officially changed to Patterson Hotel in March 1927; however, there are numerous references to it being called “Patterson” as early as 1922.
The hotel was one of the first buildings in North Dakota to be built with steel reinforced concrete, and often advertised as “absolutely fire proof”, largely in response to the Fire of 1898. Upon opening, the hotel had 250 rooms and the most private baths of any building in the state.
The Patterson Hotel was often referred to as the most luxurious hotel between Minneapolis and Seattle, and became a major gathering place for politicians and businessmen alike.
Amongst other celebrities, several U.S. presidents had visited the hotel during its glory days, including Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Following the destruction of the Northwest Hotel in 1921, the Nonpartisan League became headquartered at the Patterson Hotel. The League’s most influential member, William Langer, served 2 stints as governor; the first of which ended in his controversial forced removal from office following two felony convictions.
In an effort to avoid paying property taxes, as city code at the time stated that property taxes could not be collected on a building until its final completion, the Patterson Hotel saw continued expansion until the late 1930s, ultimately growing from its original seven stories to a towering ten stories.
A rooftop garden was added in 1920, and enlarged the following year to include a bigger dance floor and enclosed dining room. Construction on the eighth and ninth floors began in 1924, but weren’t completed until 1931, at which time the state government took up temporary residence within the hotel following the destruction of the State Capitol. During the mid 1930s, a tenth floor was added that included the Sky Room and Tip Top Lounge.
The Patterson Hotel secretly served alcohol during prohibition, and had even installed an electronic alarm system to keep out “unwanted guests”. It was also host to illegal gambling, and rumored to have housed prostitutes. Rumors also exist that an underground tunnel once connected the hotel with the train depot located across the street, to secretly smuggle contraband and guests between the two buildings.
Closure and Renovation
Increased competition from modern hotels being constructed around the city, along with rerouted traffic following the completion of Interstate 94, lead to the hotel’s closure in the mid-1970s. The deteriorating building was condemned in 1980, at which time it underwent extensive renovation.
Today, the former lobby of the hotel houses Peacock Alley, a prominent restaurant and bar, and the remainder of the building houses Patterson Place senior apartments.
Although still known officially as “The Patterson”, most of the Patterson nameplates have been removed, exposing the original “McKenzie” nameplates.
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