THE BLAND HOTEL
The Bland Hotel was listed as being 4 years old in 1907 according to Park records. This being true, the hotel had to have begun construction in late 1902 or early 1903 right after the first segregation of land.
The building was spacious to say the least. It comprised four stories containing 47,800 square feet. The floors on the first floor were tiled and inlaid fancy. The floors on the upper levels were ordinary wood floors. The overall size of the building at the widest point was 185' x 140'.
The entry floor was black and white marble made in 12"x12" tiles measuring 1,100 square feet. The ladies sitting parlor, just off the main entry, had inlaid parquet wood floors and measured 1,000 square feet.
The ceilings were pressed tin and the roof was gravel. The ceiling height on the first floor was 13'-10", the second story was 12', the third floor was 10' and the dance hall on the fourth floor was 13'. The doors on the first floor were overly large with brass hinges. The doors were ordinary on the upper floors. There were two oak fireplace mantles of very good workmanship on the first floor. All the interior walls on the first floor were finished with southern pine. There was plaster on the upper story walls.
All the doors had transom lites and fancy glass was installed in the transoms of the entry doors. There was a cupola on the corner of the building with three round corner windows. The windowsills were all made of imported stone. All the windows had transom lites that matched the doors.
The columns in the building were all made of either cast iron or wood. The exterior columns supporting the porch roof were cast iron. The interior columns were made of hollow wood. The drip edge of the porches was lined with real tin.
There was no plumbing or electrical in the Bland Hotel. It is only an assumption of this writer that when the owners of the Bland discovered that there was to be a second segregation of land by the Park, they deliberately omitted these utilities. By this date, there were already indoor toilets and electric lighting in buildings in new Sulphur. It would be ridiculous to build a fancy new hotel at this late date without these amenities.
It can only be surmised that when word reached the owners midway through the building process, a decision was made to accelerate the schedule and complete the building.
The lower floors had exquisite details throughout, but the upper floors were shoddily built in a very unworkmanlike manner. One can only guess that the builders were trying to finish it as cheaply as possible to get the maximum appraisal from the government. They knew it would be demolished anyway.
Superintendent Greene wasted little time after he took over. One of his first priorities was to build a new superintendent's residence. Greene described the current one as "little better than a shanty". In a letter to an architect in Lawrence, KS in May of 1907, Greene described the Bland Hotel as "an immense building containing 125 rooms with an immense dance hall on the top story. The cost of the building was $75,000, contains 1,250,000 'Coffeeville' bricks, of which 25,000 are first quality, 365 windows, and a large number are plate. The building was started in 1902 and has sat vacant since November of 1905. It is an eyesore and a white elephant. The highest bid received for the hotel is $11,000. The lowest bid for demolition and salvage is $6,000." Greene wanted the architect to do a feasibility study of tearing down the hotel and using some of the materials to build a new superintendents residence.
The Bland Hotel caused other problems. There were squatters and vagrants who took up residence in the abandoned hotel. It also turned into a lovers rendezvous. The building became a maintenance problem also. Each time the weeds around the hotel needed to be cut it would take several weeks work to accomplish the task.
The Baptist Annual Encampment of Young Peoples Union ask permission to use the Bland Hotel first Floor for the meeting July 17th to July 25th, 1906. The hotel was now literally falling apart with huge chunks of plaster falling from the ceilings of the upper floors. It was thought that the first floor was safe since it had tin panel ceilings. Superintendent Swords had to refuse the favor as it would surely get some youngster hurt.
Also in the summer of the same year, the Chickasaw Normal School Teachers Association wanted to have their annual encampment and convention at the Bland Hotel. They contacted the Superintendent seeking permission to use the hotel. Once again the superintendent had to refuse the favor.
It was also inquired about in regard to sell or renting it out as a bathhouse and sanitarium to a number of doctors. But, the building had come to such a state of deterioration that it was unsafe for habitation.
One could not say that the Park did not make every effort to rid itself of the white elephant called the Bland Hotel. Auctions were held in 1905 on May 1, August 1, 8, 22, 29 and October 16. Still, the highest bid ever received was $11,111.00.
The August sale of structures in the reserve netted the government another $6,886.80. Still, the Park and Bland Hotels remained unsold. In October, another auction was set and this time the Park Hotel is finally sold to Willis Townsley for $1,615. There were no bids on the Bland Hotel.
Superintendent Swords was ill with malaria the whole month of November. Upon Swords return to work in December, his first act was to put together another auction for the Bland Hotel.
Advertisements would again be published in local newspapers. This time there would be a minimum bid specified in the ads. The government paid $50,000 for the Bland. It had always held that the minimum acceptable bid would be $25,000. In this auction, the minimum would be lowered to $15,000. This would still be more than $3,000 above any previous bid.
Ads for the auction were placed in the Dallas Morning News, Daily Ardmorite, Daily Oklahoman, Sulphur Post, etc. This auction failed to draw a single bid.
The Bland Hotel was the last building left in the Park that was to be removed. Repeated efforts to auction it off failed. Now the Secretary was again taking bids on the hotel but this time in Washington. A great effort was made by the citizens of Sulphur to keep the Bland Hotel erect. In the Fall of 1907 there were efforts to make it a Soldier's Home, a museum or lease it to the Frisco R. R. as a Fred Harvey Hotel.
On April 7, 1908, the Secretary of Interior wrote Superintendent Greene that only three bids had been received on the latest efforts to sell the decaying behemoth. C. F. Higginbotham of Sulphur bid $7,011; William Liberenz bid $4,000 and Mohawk Mining Co. bid $300.
Greene recommended that the high bid be accepted immediately because, as he wrote " the structure is constantly deteriorating in value, the result of a leaky and insecure roof, whereby the plaster is falling and accumulating on the floor in masses which retain water and rot the same. Also by acts of vandalism in breaking windows and transoms, removing locks, mirrors, hearth and mantle tiling, etc. Moreover, the walls are steadily sagging and settling, the ultimate result of which will be the collapse of the entire structure."
Higginbotham requested that if he was the high bidder and his bid was accepted, that the Secretary wired back his reply so that demolition could commence immediately. Greene decided that he would supervise the demolition as there would be the danger of the building collapsing on the Buckhorn Road and injuring a passerby or blocking the public road.
On April 15, 1908, C. E. Higginbotham submitted his final bank draft for the sum of $5,608.80 completing payment for the Bland Hotel. He now owned a four-story hotel and he had only ninety days to get it torn down and out of the Park.
It is all together fitting to note here that most of the re-usable material removed in the demolition of the Bland Hotel was used to build the Artesian Hotel and the first brick building at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf. Another interesting piece of trivia regarding the Bland is that Forrest Townsley, the first Ranger in Platt and his 16 year old brother John bid to clean the bricks from the Bland for ten cents per hundred.
Thus ends one of the most intriguing sagas of the early years of Platt National Park.
© Contributed by Dennis Muncrief, October 2006.