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Up the Road a Piece…

Inside the historic Skirvin Hilton


The soft jazzey sounds from another era floated softly over head as I entered the impressive lobby. Floral design fabric and wood columns topped with gilded images of Bacchus, the god of wine and mirth complete the atmosphere.

Built during prohibition, some believe the Bacchus faces were a gesture directed to the government regulators from the original owner, who was known for his sense of humor and fun. First opened in 1911, the hotel is named for its founder, William Balser Skirvin, a land developer and oilman. The downtown corner of 1st Street and Broadway in Oklahoma City soon became a symbol of this progressive, young state. On most days “Bill” Skirvin could be found in the lobby greeting the people who visited his showcase hotel. And for the next ten years the guest register reflected an impressive and diverse crowd.

Politicians, oil men, cattle ranchers, blanketed Indians from the state’s 70 tribes, and the movers and shakers of the era gathered at the Skirvin. Retail shops, a drugstore, Tea Room, basement Grill, and the Skirvin Cafe’ with entrances from both 1st Street  and Broadway featured chilled air ventilation and musicians; all purposed to serve every need. The decor featured red, as this was his daughter’s favorite color (Pearle Skirvin Mesta went on to become a Washington D.C. socialite and the ambassador to Luxembourg under Harry Truman.)

Skirvin moved his three sons and Pearle into a five-room suite on the ninth floor. By 1923, the first remodel was undertaken and in 1926 a major renovation added a new wing of 12 stories. In 1930, the entire building was raised to 14 levels featuring 525 rooms, a roof garden and cabaret club.

What I found most impressive is the attention to detail and painstaking work to restore the original decorative elements in an effort to return the Skirvin back to its former glory. The recent renovation was completed in 2007 following 20 years of disrepair and abandonment.

The most elegant banquet hall is the 14th Floor Venetian Room. Marci Jacobs, Sales Manager, told me that this room had experienced the worst damage. A decaying, open rooftop had allowed pigeons to almost devastate the space. Walnut paneling and an arched, intricately carved ceiling sports massive chandeliers. This room was the site of an icebreaker event for the energy conference I was attending.

Painstakingly restored, the ceiling in the Venetian Room is impressive. Skirvin Hilton

About 250 of us merged onto the fourteenth floor in flapper dresses, gangster attire, jewels, and feather boas where we danced to the sounds of Mojo Men. The buffet featured a pasta bar, roasted turkey, fried cauliflower stuffed with cheese, tortilla pinwheels, chocolate mousse, and a special drink created just for our event: Crossroads Cosmo.

Today the hotel boasts that it has hosted every U.S. President at one time. The Red Piano Bar is a popular hangout of the downtown business crowd, as they wait for the traffic to clear before heading home.

Red tiles original to the stairwell. Historic Skirvin Hilton.

Precious mementos of the past are displayed near the lobby which includes a doorman’s uniform, black and white photos of famous guests, and my favorite, a brass door plate and key, wonderful treasures of days gone by, and what a jewel the Skirvin Hilton is for the downtown area.

Second floor corridor, Skirvin Hilton, Oklahoma City


Impressive light fixture and staircase to the second floor banquet rooms.

If you’re planning a visit to Oklahoma City, you must see The Skirvin. Ask for a room on the haunted tenth floor. But that’s another story for another blog. Happy Trails!

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