|City/Town: • Oklahoma City
|Location Class: • Hotel/Motel
|Built: • 1910 | Abandoned: • 1988
|Historic Designation: • National Register of Historic Places (1979)
|Status: • Restored
|Photojournalist: • AbandonedOK Team
Wandering downtown Oklahoma City some have been curious as to the history of the jaw-dropping and stunning three-tower hotel known as the Skirvin. Some do not know that this now flourishing business used to be abandoned and is over a century old. The Skirvin Hotel was built by its namesake, William B. Skirvin a very wealthy oilman in the Oklahoma City area.
Designed by Layton, Hicks and Forsythe it only had two towers and ten floors. The general contractor was let for $225,000 and awarded to the Oklahoma City Construction Co./Campbell & Price. Groundbreaking for the project happened on April 25, 1910, and was completed by the June of next year, a testament to how quickly construction used to move despite the size.
With plush furnishings, it embodied luxury in every sense of the word. The Malakoff brick and symmetric external face made the look of the building flow harmoniously. It was allegedly one of the first buildings in OKC to have “Iced Air” otherwise known as air conditioning. Each of the 224 rooms were equipped with running water as well. Some of the notable features included a 500 person ballroom, chandeliers imported from Austria allegedly costing $100,000 each, a basement that not only extended under the building but further out under the sidewalks, and marble staircases. The dining room had a beautiful water feature with a cupid figure in the center nestled amongst rocks, ferns and moss.
Manager of the Skirvin from its opening until April 1913 was Frederick W. Scherubel. Controversy surrounded his death which was ultimately declared a suicide. A possible reason for the suicide was given by the hotel directors being that he was behind and couldn’t pay his share in capital stock. The hotel was relatively unaffected except for losing a popular and talented staff member who had a direct hand in making the hotel successful in its early years. He was replaced in December by T.A. Franker who immediately implemented new features and ideas.
Luxury and top-tier service weren’t just words on a page thrown around by the staff, the proof is in the pudding. The hotel was awarded with a 99 percent perfect score in the quarterly grading of restaurants in the city. This score was three points higher than any scores given to other hotels and restaurants. Skirvin’s daughter, Perle Mesta, also had a hand in bringing the hotel a national reputation by being the ambassadress to Luxembourg, and then Washington’s “Hostess with the Mostess,” portrayed in the famed Broadway musical, “Call Me Madam.” They even had their own ‘Skirvin Taxi Service’.
In 1930 the hotel underwent a major renovation, the once two-tower building would have a third tower added known as Skirvin Tower. Four floors were then added to each of the towers bring the total to 14 floors and the number of rooms to 525. Amongst the other renovations included doubling the lobby space, and all older rooms remodeled. After all was said and done the total investment of the property surpassed three million dollars.
William Skirvin met an unfortunate ending when he got in a car accident in 1944. Having been 83 years old at the time and receiving multiple series injuries he succumbed to them on March 25. The Skirvin Hotel was left to his three children who then started the process of selling it. Just a year later they closed on a deal with an undisclosed purchasing price with Dan W. James of James Hotel Co. They didn’t hold onto it for long though before selling it to H.T. Griffin of Griffin Enterprises for $1.2 million in 1967. Oklahoma City Federal purchased solely the Skirvin Tower portion of the building in 1971.
Griffin, unfortunately, learned a pretty tough business lesson and had to file for bankruptcy in 1972. There were more than $200,000 in taxes and liens on the property complicating the sale of the building. Griffin pitting all obligations onto any new buyer of the property. Great news came for the building in 1979 when a group of seven investors formed the Skirvin Plaza Investors and purchased the building for $5.6 million dollars. Just a few months later the historic hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Millions of dollars in updates were poured into the building only to be sold again in 1988 to Business Men’s Assurance Co. of America for $4.6 million.
Unfortunately, the hotel closed in October of 1988, it’s future uncertain. Again it was sold at a special auction in 1990 to Empire Land Co. for $2.22 million. It seemed like investors were playing hot potato with the fate of the hotel. The building stood empty for almost fifteen years wilting away to the elements and waiting for the one to finally come to its rescue.
That day finally came around 2007 when the Skirvin Hilton opened to an excited and overjoyed crowd in Oklahoma City. The $46.4 million project included the original exterior finish, installation of historically accurate windows, reconfigured guest rooms, new guest elevators, an elegant lobby, restaurants, and state-of-the-art meeting rooms. Wherever possible, historical elements such as moldings, tiles and ceiling treatments were incorporated into the design. It still operates today and is an amazing addition to downtown and a win for preservationists all over. Proving that no matter the hoops to jump through or the twist and turns there is almost always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Skirvin Hotel Featured in Feature Length Documentary
The Skirvin is used as an example in a historic development documentary. To learn more about the film, visit ForeverMajesticFilm.com
“In 2014 the town of Hot Springs Arkansas would change forever. A mysterious fire engulfed part of the Majestic Hotel in an eruption of flames. The historic landmark’s history goes well beyond that of the fire, however, the once bustling hotel that housed the likes of famous gangsters and baseball players in Hot Spring’s American 20s tells a story of city corruption and a decade of abandonment. Two activists race to save the building, and it’s legacy, fighting to keep the hotel FOREVER MAJESTIC.”
Gallery Below of Skirvin Oklahoma City Hotels
If you wish to support our current and future work, please consider making a donation or purchasing one of our many books. Any and all donations are appreciated.
Donate to our cause Check out our books!