Commodore Perry Hotel, Toledo Ohio

Date added: August 19, 2022 Categories: Ohio Hotel

Following in the tradition of the Oliver House, the Boody House Hotel (demolished), and the Secor Hotel, the Commodore Perry Hotel is the fourth in a series of large-scale, architect designed, luxury hotels constructed in Toledo between 1859 and 1930. These hotels were developed with the intention of improving amenities while expanding the city's travel and convention business. Daniel Boorstin, writing about hotels as social centers has called them "Palaces of the Public." "In the period of most rapid urban growth, it was not by churches or government buildings but by hotels that cities judged themselves and expected others to judge them." President Herbert Hoover, in dedicating the Waldorf-Astoria in 1931 stated that "Our hotels have become community institutions. They are the center points of civic hospitality. They are the meeting place of a thousand community and national activities.." They incorporated the latest styles in hotel architecture, the newest developments in guest amenities, and brought a sense of luxury to their guests. They also served as centers for Toledo society. When the Commodore Perry was constructed in 1927, it was the "largest hotel between Chicago and Cleveland and one of the largest in the country" (Blade, 1/17/27) and the largest building (by square foot) in the City of Toledo (Blade, 1/17/27). Riding the crest of a wave of prosperity that engulfed Toledo in the early 1920s, the seventeen-story, 500 room luxury hotel was championed in the Toledo Blade as a means "to commemorate Toledo's civil, commercial, and industrial progress" that would carry Toledo "from the class of the big town to [that of] the metropolitan city" (Blade, 1/17/27). The four million dollar structure, with its ballroom and shopping arcade, was a showplace that soon became the new social and business center in the heart of Toledo.

Lots 204, 205, 206, 207 of the Port Lawrence Addition, where the Commodore Perry Hotel is now located, were part of the original plat of the City of Toledo when it was incorporated in 1837. As the city developed, the lots were bought and sold by some of Toledo's most prominent citizens including Charles B. Phillips, owner of the city's first railway car company, the Toledo Car Works; Israel Hall, a partner in Toledo's first luxury hotel, the Boody House; James B. Steedman who gained fame as "Old Chicamauga," General of the Fourteenth Ohio Volunteers during the Civil War; and Dennis Coghlin, a partner in the firm of Jacobi, Coghlin and Company, one of Toledo's first brewing companies and the producers of Buckeye Lager Beer. The Polk Directories from the early 1900s list 501 Jefferson (lot 205) as the location of the Buckeye Liquor store, quite possibly a retail outlet for Coghlin's brewery.

The 1905 Sanborn map indicates that a number of commercial structures existed on these lots. A photograph, reprinted in the Toledo Blade in 1952, shows that a barber shop operated by Sherman B. Coss was located on lot 205 at 505 Jefferson c. 1910. The Polk Directories for 1911-1914 list a restaurant, tailor, pool hall, fish market, barber, and bike shop on Jefferson while the buildings bordering Superior Street housed a liquor store, fruit market, restaurant, tailor and boarding house. Building permits indicate that the structures located at 125-130 Superior were demolished in 1922 while the structures at 505-515 Jefferson were demolished in 1924 to make room for the Commodore Perry.

Due to its location at the base of Lake Erie, Toledo has long been a transportation center and a haven for traders and travelers. Toledo's earliest hotels were tavern hotels that provided the traveler with room and board and few other amenities. In a commentary written by the editor of the Toledo Blade on June 10, 1856 (Toledo Scrapbooks), the Oliver Tavern, constructed in 1817, is credited as Toledo's earliest tavern hotel. The second tavern hotel, the Eagle Tavern, was constructed c. 1835 followed soon after by the Mansion House c. 1836 (Summit at Locust). It wasn't until the completion of the Erie Canal that the first "modern" hotel was constructed in the city. The canal made Toledo a major break-in-bulk point for merchandise shipped from New York City to the Northwest Territory. In 1836, the Indiana House, a two-story, frame structure located at Summit & Perry was built to accommodate Ohio and Michigan merchants patronizing the merchandise warehouse located at the foot of Monroe Street. By 1837 there were seven "modern" hotels in the city each of which catered to a specific clientele. These early hotels were located near Summit Street and the river and were oriented toward Toledo's water transportation facilities.

The coming of the railroad brought major changes to Toledo's hotel industry. In 1856, the Island House Hotel was constructed in Middlegrounds, an area located between the Maumee River and Swan Creek. This three-story, fifty room hotel had a 300 person capacity dining hall and housed the Union Depot, Toledo's main passenger station. According to an article in the Blade, the Island Hotel "did about all the transit business and put other houses partially out of business" (Blade, 1-23-09). In 1859 a second hotel, the Oliver House, was constructed in the Middlegrounds area. Based on the luxury hotels of the east coast, the Oliver House ushered in a new era for the hotel industry in Toledo. Designed by Isaiah Rogers, a nationally known architect in hotel design, the 170 room, Greek Revival style hotel brought a metropolitan air to Toledo and "loomed like a castle" to passengers traveling up the Maumee River (Blade 1/23/09). The hotel featured separate drawing rooms for ladies and gentlemen, a large dining hall, water closets, and mechanical call buttons. The Oliver House provided its patrons with far more than the basic amenities; it lavished them in comfort and style. It also set a precedent in Toledo's social history as the first hotel to become a gathering place for Toledo society due to its sense of elegance, large ballrooms, and ample meeting space. The Oliver House is still standing at its original location in the Middlegrounds.

The 1860s were a time of growth for Toledo which had become a major port for grain distribution to the northern states during the Civil War. This was the decade when Toledo's upper and lower towns merged and the city qualified as one of Ohio's first class cities with a population of 20,000. As streets were graded and the city's infrastructure emerged, a new downtown area began to develop to the west of Summit Street and away from the river. In 1869, local business leaders formed the Toledo Hotel Company with the intent of building a new first class hotel to help meet the demands of the burgeoning city. The result was the Boody House Hotel, located on the corner of Madison and St. Clair. No expense was spared in the construction of this Second Empire style hotel built of Medina stone. It had 133 rooms, a bath on every floor, a passenger elevator, and a fireplace in every room. It was the resting place of some of the era's most famous people including the actress Ellen Terry, boxer John L. Sullivan, and Presidents Hayes, Cleveland, and Grant. During its heyday it was known as the finest hotel between Chicago and the east coast (Toledo Times, 3/28/28). The Boody House Hotel quickly took the place of the Oliver House as the heart of Toledo society and remained there for the next fifty years. The success of the Boody House Hotel was ensured when two successive floods occurred in 1881 and 1882 leaving the passenger station at the Island Hotel under four to six feet of water (Toledo Scrapbooks). In 1886, a new Union Depot was constructed on higher ground at the foot of Knapp Street, just south of downtown. The improvement of the city's streets and the development of the electric rail line made transportation to the new depot from the growing business district along Madison Street quick and easy. As the focus turned from water to rail transportation, the importance of the Oliver House began to decline.

The Boody House Hotel, Toledo's grand dame of luxury hotels, reigned supreme from 1870 to 1890. However, by the end of the century she was beginning to show her age. As the city continued to prosper a larger, more modern, fireproof hotel was needed. In 1908, the Secor Hotel was constructed on the corner of Jefferson and Superior. The 400 room, ten-story hotel, designed by Toledo architect George M. Mills, was Toledo's most elegant and fashionable hotel in the early 1900s. Following in the steps of the Oliver House and the Boody House Hotel, the Secor became a center of social life within the city.

By the 1920s, the City of Toledo was prospering as a result of the World War I government contracts that had been secured by local industries. In 1924, the City of Toledo experienced a building boom that was greater than any the city had experienced to date. A $20,000,000 building program was implemented in the downtown area, concentrated along Jefferson Avenue. The project was to include the construction of a new office building to house the Chamber of Commerce (Jefferson at St. Clair), a five-story Western Union building (Jefferson and Huron), a mercantile exhibition hall (S. Erie at Market) and three major hotels: the Ft. Meigs (St. Clair), the Lorraine (Jefferson at 12th), and the Commodore Perry (Blade, 7/23/24). According to the Polk Directory, by 1927 there were 671 manufacturing companies in the city. The Toledo-based Willys-Overland Company had become one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world employing over 23,000 by 1928. Glass manufactories, such as Libbey and Owens, began to experience unrivaled success making Toledo the "Glass Capital of the World." Standard Oil's largest plant was located in the city. As business boomed and job opportunities abounded, people flocked to Toledo. The city's population almost doubled between 1910 and 1930 increasing from 168,497 to 290,718, respectively. According to the 1927 Polk Directory, the number of building permits issued within the city increased from 3,162 in 1920 to 6,034 in 1926. Toledo's business district blossomed as theaters, hotels, and department stores were built downtown. The Toledo Art Museum received endowments from the Libbey family that resulted in its tripling in size by 1926. A new suspension bridge was planned to span the Maumee River and the last remnants of the old canal were filled in to provide more space for growth and development downtown. This spirit of growth led the writer of the city's history in the 1927 Polk Directory to declare "since the last census Toledo seems almost like a new city . . . a vital influence has been the birth of a real civic spirit."

The business leaders of Toledo felt that an updated luxury hotel, with large-capacity banquet and meeting facilities was needed to make Toledo a successful business and convention center. The exhibition hall constructed in 1924, had provided 100,000 square feet of floor space and an auditorium with seating capacity for 3,000 (Polk Directory 1930, p. 13). In order to attract the attention of the largest corporations, Toledo needed a hotel and conference center that would stand as one of the finest in the Midwest. The Commodore Perry was planned to fill that void and continue the tradition of luxury hotels in Toledo started by the Oliver House, the Boody House Hotel, and the Secor Hotel. The site for the hotel was chosen to be near the downtown's hotel district, the theater district on St. Clair, and the new exhibition hall. (See map) Two prominent Toledo businessmen, George M. Jones, president of the Ohio Savings Bank and Trust Company, and Willard I. Webb, chairman of the board of the George M. Jones Company, showed their faith in the city's future by backing the proposed enterprise. According to a 1986 article in the Toledo Magazine, Jones wanted the Commodore Perry to be the modern equivalent of Toledo's famous Boody House Hotel. This elegant but aging structure was purchased by Jones and demolished c. 1928, after the opening of the Commodore Perry, to make way for the Ohio Bank and Trust Building.

The $4 million dollar Commodore Perry Hotel was intended to be a celebration of Toledo's, past, present, and future. The hotel was named in honor of Commodore Oliver Perry, the naval commander who's victories on Lake Erie during the Battle of 1812 helped the Americans to win the war against the British. Mills, Rhines, Bellman, and Nordhoff, Toledo's most influential and successful architectural firm, was awarded the contract for the building's design. Incorporated in 1912, this nationally renowned firm was responsible for the construction of a large number of Toledo's most important buildings including Burt's Theater (Jefferson at Ontario), the Ohio Building (Madison at Superior), the Edison Building (Madison at Superior), the Secor Hotel (Jefferson at Superior), Lamson's Department Store (Jefferson at Huron), the Toledo Club (14th at Madison), the Safety Building (Erie at Jackson) and many of the buildings for the University of Toledo. For the Commodore Perry, the architects utilized the Second Renaissance Revival style, a popular style for public buildings at the turn of the century, though not as prevalent in Toledo as the Chicago style. Other Toledo buildings constructed in the Second Renaissance Revival style that are still in existence include the Gardner Building (506 Madison) and the Lucas County Jail (Jackson at Speilbusch). Built in 1908 and designed by George Mills, a partner in the architectural firm that designed the Commodore Perry, the Secor Hotel (located across from the Commodore Perry) is an excellent example of this style with its sharply contrasting quoins and strongly rusticated lower floors. Built twenty-one years after the Secor, the Commodore Perry's Second Renaissance features are more refined and sedate in their execution. Other Toledo buildings that utilized this style, the Coghlin Building (Jefferson and St. Clair) and the Port Lawrence Building (Michigan and Jefferson), have since been demolished. The Henry J. Spieker Company, incorporated 1901, served as general contractors on the project. They had previously worked with the architects on the construction of the Toledo Club, Lamson's Department Store, and the Ohio Building and were also responsible for such Toledo landmarks as the Toledo Blade Building, the Toledo Art Museum, the Toledo Public Library, and the Willys-Overland Administration Building. Local contractors were used in the hotel's construction. Bricks were furnished by Kuhlman Builders Supply and Brick Company on Nicholas Street. Norcross Marble of Cleveland supplied marble for the interior, some of which was imported from Italy. Finish work was done by the Stollberg Hardware and Paint Company and millwork was supplied by Toledo's Campbell Lumber and Manufacturing Company. Interior lighting features were supplied by the Gillet and Kohler Lighting Company.

On the eve of the Commodore Perry's grand opening in January 1927, the Toledo Blade published a nine-page tribute emphasizing the hotel's elegance and importance to the future of the city proclaiming that the hotel "opened a new era in civic growth" for Toledo (Blade, 1/18/27). Every detail of construction and service was highlighted along with profiles of its managers and key employees. Over seven hundred invited guests attended the gala events planned for the hotel's dedication. Grove Patterson, then editor of the Toledo Blade, presented George Jones and William Webb with a painting by Toledo artist Carlton Chapman which depicted Perry's naval battle on Lake Erie. The painting hung for years in the hotel's lobby. The hotel officially opened to the public on January 19, 1927 and, according to the Toledo Blade, the first registered guest was the opera singer, Marion Talley. As predicted, the Commodore Perry quickly became the social center of Toledo society. Military balls, weddings, proms, and graduations filled its ballrooms while clubs, societies, and businessmen utilized its meetings rooms. Over the years, the hotel became the heart of life in downtown Toledo. In a 1996 article from the Toledo Blade, local citizens recalled that the Commodore Perry "was the place to meet downtown" where "locals outnumbered people who were staying in the hotel" and its restaurants were "like a club, where people from O-I, Owens Corning, Ohio Bell. . . came to do business, to socialize, and to relax a bit" (Blade, 12/24/96). The Commodore Perry's guest registry included the names of some of the nation's most prominent and important public figures including President Harry Truman, Vice President Richard Nixon, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jimmy Stewart, Vincent Price, Joe Dimaggio, Guy Lombardo, Jack Benny, Carl Sandburg, and Ethel Barrymore. In 1953, the hotel was the site of a banquet given by the Queen and King of Greece to honor the City of Toledo for its support of the allied cause during World War II. In 1956, the hotel gained national attention when Elvis Presley was engaged in an altercation in its lobby. In 1967, the hotel hosted the wedding reception for Bob Hope's son as well as a tea for presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey. In addition to its contribution to Toledo's social scene, the Commodore Perry became a prominent industry in itself, employing over 450 people and housing its own print shop and laundry.

While the Commodore Perry was successful in bringing recognition to the city and providing a focal point for local business and social life, it was never a money-making enterprise for its investors. The Great Depression, which struck the nation soon after the hotel opened, made the realization of its full potential an impossibility. It also spelled disaster for the Ohio Savings Bank and Trust Company and the Commodore Perry's sponsor, bank president George Jones, when the bank was forced to close in 1931. In 1934, the hotel was sold to the Commodore Perry Hotel Company headed by Daniel J. O'Brien, then managing director of the Towers Hotel, the largest hotel in Brooklyn, New York. Soon after taking over, the company began renovations on the building. In March of 1935, O'Brien commissioned New York artist William H. Matthews (1868-1966) to paint a series of historical murals depicting the early history of Toledo for some of the hotel's public rooms. Matthews, a graduate of the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, had worked as a set designer for the era's most prominent theatrical producers including Florenz Ziegfeld, the Shuberts, and George Abbot. He also founded the Brooklyn Society of Painters and Sculptors and was a member of the Art League of New York (Blade, 1/18/35). Matthews painted nine murals of Toledo's early history with titles such as "The Recruiting for the Toledo War" and "Mad Anthony Wayne and the Battle of Fallen Timbers." In 1937, Matthews painted five murals based on the story of Don Quixote for the hotel. The murals were so large that they were painted on site on canvas panels attached to the walls (Toledo Times, 10/31/37). They still hang in their original places in the Grand Ballroom and are in good condition. Matthews eventually moved to Toledo and lived in the Artist's Club on Collingwood throughout the 1950s. He also painted the Charles Dickens murals for Toledo's Willard Hotel (Adams at St. Clair), a 150 room luxury hotel patterned after an old English club that was created in the Valentine Building, Toledo's former City Hall, in 1936.

By the mid-1960's Toledo's downtown was suffering from the effects of its burgeoning suburbs. As services and industries followed the trail of cars to the city's edge, the central business district began to decline. The Commodore Perry was not immune to the changes occurring in society during that time and business began to suffer. In an effort to make it more accessible to automobile traffic, the hotel underwent a major renovation in 1966 moving its main entry to the south facade. This change did little to stop the hotel's decline. In 1969, the Holiday Inn hotel chain made plans to construct a nineteen-story, 257 room hotel downtown. Known as the Riverview Tower, it was the first new hotel to be built in Toledo in almost forty years. Increased competition from this new, modern hotel was the final blow for the Commodore Perry. In 1970 only fifty percent of its rooms were still reserved for transient guest use and by 1973, the hotel's board of directors discussed closing the hotel. Instead, a new general manager was hired, the colorful Victor Giles, and a plan was implemented to convert hotel rooms to office space. In 1978, the Toledo Hospital located its Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Center in the facility, eventually expanding to take over two complete floors. By 1980, forty percent of the building's space had been converted to offices and, after fifty-three years, the operation of the Commodore Perry as a guest hotel ceased (Blade, 7/2/80). In 1984, with plans in place for a new convention center and two new hotels (the Seagate and Radisson) to be constructed downtown, Willard Webb IV revealed a $20 million dollar renovation plan to restore the Commodore Perry to its old elegance. Unfortunately, due in part to Mr. Webb's death, the renovation plans never materialized. The building has stood vacant since 1986 when the Toledo Hospital and Oliver's Restaurant, the last remaining business enterprises in the structure, left. The Commodore Perry building is now the property of the City of Toledo.