Vacant hotel in IL prior to restoration

Fort Armstrong Hotel, Rock Island Illinois
Date added: December 12, 2022 Categories: Illinois Hotel
Hotel and dinner theater to right of hotel (1984)

The Fort Armstrong Hotel represents a profound example of community dedication and teamwork by its citizenry in their pursuit of a cause they believed in. And it was this kind of dedication that was responsible for the birth of the idea, the funding of the project, as well as the construction of and the community support the Fort Armstrong Hotel enjoyed for over half a century.

After sitting vacant for several years, it was converted into an assisted living facility in the 1980s.

The civic minds of the City of Rock Island began planning for a project that could not only satisfy the needs of the traveler, but provide an attraction point that would bring meetings, conventions, and even vacationers to a new hotel facility that in the 1920s, represented one of the most elaborate and luxurious facilities of its kind between Chicago and the Pacific Coast. To accomplish this, farsighted planners (the original planning committee which made up the officers and directors of the Fort Armstrong Hotel company) included features that were only available in hotels at that time on very rare occasions. Features such as a large ballroom to accommodate large convention groups and small retail and service shops as a part of the hotel facility to better serve the hotel patrons of that time, as well as the community itself.

All of these great features would bring people, business, and important revenues to the City of Rock Island. But the cause went deeper than that, the Fort Armstrong Hotel was to also become a center for social and local business functions as well. It would become the scene of the Christmas parties, the Chamber of Commerce banquets, and the May Day Dance (the last one was held in May of 1981).

In the Rock Island Argus, June 19, 1926 (special Fort Armstrong Hotel edition), one of the headlines tells the entire story of what Fort Armstrong meant to the citizenry of Rock Island. The headline reads "HOTEL STANDS AS MONUMENT TO CIVIC SPIRIT OF COMMUNITY." The subhead says "Years of planning, with a few months of active work, resulted in Fort Armstrong."

"One of the biggest projects the citizenship of Rock Island has ever united to put over, the new Fort Armstrong Hotel stands as a monument to civic spirit and foresightedness. It is the product of several years of planning by representative businessmen of the community, and of a few months of concerted effort on the part of a larger number."

"With ways and means very definitely figured out and with a determination to succeed that was destined to be rewarded with full materialization of their hopes, the community leaders who had studied the matter together and had formed the Fort Armstrong Hotel, Company finally made the long-awaited announcement in the winter of 1923-24."

At that time positive actions were implemented, the first of which was to launch a program that would ultimately fund the hotel. The early cost estimates were $750,000 (The project ultimately cost approximately $800,000.) Step 1 in the fund-raising process was to launch a stock-selling campaign. That was launched on February 20, 1925 with $100,000. already contributed before the opening gun had been fired.

To illustrate the community spirit that was at work in this fund-raising activity, it is interesting to note that there was a campaign army of 177 people participating. There were two divisions, each having three majors and 12 teams, each team having a captain and six lieutenants. In one week the sum of $451,750 was raised through the sale of stock. There were more than 600 subscribers, practically all of them being residents of Rock Island. The building was thus thoroughly Rock Island owned. The balance was, as had been the original plan, raised by a first mortgage loan. The site had been obtained earlier for a total of $86,998.96, or $725.00 a front foot.

With the money obtained, the company set out at once to transfer the hotel plans from paper into brick and stone.

The Fort Armstrong Hotel is a nine-story structure featuring an architectural style known as Italian Renaissance Revival. The exterior of the building is clad in "woodland rustico" brick with a good balance of masonry ornateness, accenting the crown of the building as well as the vertical corners spanning from the top to the bottom of the structure. This ornateness appears to be unique and tastefully done.

The hewn logs which form the front elevation of the entrance into the restaurant/lounge area carry forth a symbolic relationship to the old Fort Armstrong of the 1800s. Likewise, upon entering the hotel lobby, a large original mural depicting the old Fort Armstrong setting along the Mississippi River is still visible above the walnut check-in counter.

The lobby area has been remarkably preserved in its original state. The tall, fluted, walnut columns extend upward two full stories in support of the spacious mezzanine level. Rich walnut wood abounds, contrasting with mottled, buff-colored sand-finished plaster. The marble stairways, the iron railings on the mezzanine level, the gold ornate crown moldings, all flow together to create a lobby of elegance. But the most important aspect of it all is the integrity of the decor and the extremely fine condition of the various components within this common area.

Upon the completion of the hotel, Jacob Hoffmann, operator of the LaSalle Hotel in South Bend, Indiana, was hired as General Manager of the hotel operations. He was commissioned to make all of the dreams and all of the plans become a reality, as they were perceived by the directors of the Fort Armstrong Hotel, the hundreds of local investors, as well as the thousands of people from the Rock Island community that had made contributions of one size or another.

Over 10,000 shared in the Grand Opening festivities when the doors of Fort Armstrong first swung open on June 20, 1926.

Jacob Hoffmann didn't let them down. He created an environment that made Fort Armstrong the heartbeat of social and civic life in Rock Island. The reputation of Fort Armstrong spread and not only did the conventioneer, the businessman, and the weary traveler come to Fort Armstrong, but so did the likes of famous people such as John Wayne and even the notorious but well-known Al Capone who would journey from Chicago to Rock Island for a weekend stay on the 9th floor of the luxurious Fort Armstrong, overlooking the beautiful Mississippi River. Story has it that on occasion he would come and rent nearly all of the top floor.

Building Description

The Fort Armstrong Hotel is a nine-story structure constructed in 1925-1926 featuring Italian Renaissance Revival architecture. The original floor plan of the hotel provided for 160 guest rooms and 10 apartments on the top floor. Other facilities provided in the common area included a banquet room, three dining rooms, a bar, bowling alley, billiard room, a barbershop, as well as 7 shops on the ground floor. There is also a full basement which was partially finished in its early days, but later served primarily as an area for storage and the hotel utilities.

The architect responsible for the design of the Fort Armstrong Hotel was Charles W. Nicol, a prominent Chicago hotel designer during the era of the 1920s. In charge of the general construction was William J. Church, a general construction superintendent of the architectural concern.

The exterior of the structure features a "woodland rustico" brick with appropriate ornate masonry accenting the crown area of the building as well as on the vertical corners spanning from the top to the bottom of the structure. All of the windows in the building were replaced with high-quality thermopane windows in 1981 as a part of a improvement of the structure.

In the early 1800s, Fort Armstrong was a key defense position on the Mississippi River in warding off the warring efforts of Chief Black Hawk. In addition, the 270' long blockhouse constructed in the same Fort Armstrong area represented a hospitable spot for the early settlers who were traveling through the Rock Island area.

Likewise, the Fort Armstrong Hotel was designed in the era of the 1920s to become a perpetuation of that same hospitable spirit, making secure and peaceful the rest of the weary traveler. To symbolize this "fort-like" atmosphere, the west side of the restaurant/lounge area features as its front elevation a hewn log motif.

As you enter the lobby area of Fort Armstrong, you are greeted by a striking first impression, combining, in its Spanish style, refinement with an air of quiet dignity, the lobby presents an appearance that is both arresting and pleasing. The walls and ceilings are done in mottled, buff-colored sand-finished plaster. Large fluted, walnut columns extend upward to the second floor supporting on the north, west, and south sides a spacious mezzanine floor. This arrangement lends an aura of space and size to the entire lobby. The wood used for the woodwork in the lobby was quarter-sawed figured red gum, which is a very good wood. The flooring in the lobby area is terrazzo in alternate squares of dark and light tones.

Leading to the mezzanine is a wide marble staircase. Once at the mezzanine level, the entire lobby below becomes a panoramic view. The mezzanine level is accented by a decorative wrought iron railing. One of the key attractions to observe from the mezzanine level below is the large mural of the old Fort Armstrong site, which is displayed above the massive walnut check-in counter on lobby level. That mural is still in good condition today and will be preserved as a part of the lobby decor.

Floors 3 through 8 were designed as hotel rental rooms and the 9th floor was designed for 10 apartment units. These rooms are of no particular significance in design and will be substantially altered and modified in order to produce apartments with appropriate room layout to comply with today's design requirements. Likewise, the areas formerly used for commercial purposes on the second floor will be remodeled into apartment units. The mezzanine walkway area, however, will be retained, due to its tie-in with the lobby area below.

The building has two passenger elevators and one freight elevator.