Restoring the Tiger

Hotel resurrecting roaring ’20s flavor
Monday, February 13, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:16 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

The entrance to the Tiger Hotel, which is now shrouded in plywood and plastic, will soon be unveiled. In early March, workers will install a new revolving door, reminiscent of the Tiger’s original decor. Two neon Tiger signs, miniatures of the trademark Tiger sign on the building’s roof, grace the hotel’s portico.

After opening in November 1928, the Tiger Hotel enjoyed success. But World War II hit the Tiger hard when gas rations ended travel plans for most Americans, leading to vacancies. A string of 11 owners followed, and in April 2004, the current owners began talks to return the Tiger to its original splendor. The most extensive renovation project since the Tiger opened will be completed March 1.

During renovation, Tiger employees found history inside the hotel’s walls. Workers discovered signatures from the original construction crew dated to 1928, Jennifer Bayer, the Tiger’s executive director said. A book of matches and a bar of soap, both with the hotel’s insignia, and numerous newspaper clippings were also discovered.

“Everything we did was to get the building back to its original condition,” said John Ott, owner of the Tiger Hotel. Ott used old photographs and hired a historic preservation consultant to help with the project.

The vintage style continues from the entrance up to the ninth floor, where designers mimicked the lobby’s look for a new corporate office space and a banquet hall. Craftsmen added wooden crown moldings to the elevator and the ninth floor that also harken back to the Tiger’s earlier days.

The mezzanine level of the Tiger has remained in its original style since the hotel opened and served as a source of inspiration for designers, said Nicholous Detert, of Putnam’s Interiors. The light fixtures in the lobby, the ballroom and the new billiards room are original.

John D. McAfee, of McAfee Construction, said the height of the Tiger, unusual for Columbia, was a challenge. The elevators were too small to haul building materials to the top, forcing workers to go to extra lengths to complete the top floor.

A trash chute that ran from the ninth floor down to the alley was the largest the company has ever used, McAfee said.

“The task of getting material on site and debris off site was a major undertaking,” he said.

Ott included the lobbies of floors two through eight on the list of renovations. These floors house residents of the Tiger’s assisted living facility.

The decor may be historic, but the amenities are not.

Bayer plans to add a television to the new billiards room for sporting events. A new heating system has replaced baseboard heat in residential rooms. An air conditioning system is now controlled individually by room, instead of by each floor, Bayer said.

The hotel’s ballroom will get new solid-panel mirrors, Bayer said, and designers are creating new sconces to match the room’s original chandeliers.

The renovations are also bringing life back into the Tiger, Ott said. As the Tiger returns to its original style, he is already beginning to see it return to a hub of activity.

Chez Monet, a bakery based in Jefferson City, has been added to the Tiger’s list of tenants, and will have entrances from both inside and outside the building.

The mezzanine level will be used as an art gallery, Ott said.

The ballroom will have one final makeover before the end of the month. True/False Film Festival organizers will transform the ballroom into a lush woodland. The festival’s Forrest Theater in the Tiger Ballroom will show films from Feb. 23-26.

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