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Developers revamp a Boonville legacy

The 102-year-old Hotel Frederick reopens today
Tuesday, May 15, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:56 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Valet Stacy Noble waits for business outside the newly renovated Hotel Frederick in Boonville. The hotel was built in 1904 and has been renovated by new owner Adam Jones. The hotel reopens today.

When Betty Windsor Bowen was growing up in, and then, later in life, visiting Boonville with her husband and children, the Hotel Frederick was the in spot for Sunday dinners.

“Their fried chicken and homemade rolls and pies and cakes were just to die for,” Bowen, 82, recalled.

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And it was pretty fancy in its day.

“I think that was the first elevator that I remember being in,” said Bowen, who has spent most of her life in the historic town 20 miles west of Columbia. “I think that I was somewhere between 4, 5, and 6 years old.”

That was in 1930, and now — 25 years after it closed as a hotel — the 102-year-old building is being restored to its original grandeur. It’s scheduled to reopen today with 11 of its 24 rooms finished and ready for guests.

Two Kansas City developers, Bill Haw and Adam Jones, bought the building from Jim Hackman, a Boonville businessman who purchased the hotel at a foreclosure auction in the hopes that someone would want to eventually restore it.

In 2005, Jones took the bait, and last year, Stanger Construction in Kansas City began work on the building with Jones as the lead designer.

“It would be safe to say that Adam is the creative spark for the design of the restoration,” Haw said. “He has the incredible ability to get the most out of a building.”

Jones met last fall with Bernice and Paul Sombart, whose family originally owned the building. He said the couple’s knowledge was important to the restoration. Paul Sombart has since died.

“It was like buying an ’04 (Ford) Model A, and I’ve got the grandson of the guy who bought it,” Jones said.

When the building was constructed for Charles Sombart in 1905, it cost $40,000, or about $1 million today when adjusted for inflation.

Haw, who owns the livestock exchange building in Kansas City the largest of its kind in the country, said he fell in love with the building when Jones first showed it to him in 2006. The town chipped in $575,000 to get the restoration off the ground, but Haw has provided most of the more than $2.5 million needed for construction.

“We’re only doing the first phase now with the restoration,” Haw said. “If we’re successful with this we’ll probably spend another million to put in the 1929 wing.”

That should include the addition of 20 more rooms. A banquet hall in the basement and balconies on the second and third floors are also planned. Jones said the timing of the construction depends on how well the hotel does, among other things.

The dedication to detail is apparent from the ceiling of the lobby, lit by chandeliers, to its floor of original black and white diamond-patterned marble. A wooden staircase ascends toward a large window facing the west, just below a section of colorful stained glass. The rooms in the hotel — priced from $140 to $350 per night, with special rates for travelers of the trail and patrons of Arrow Rock’s Lyceum Theatre — are far from cookie-cutter. From the unusually wide hallways, original wooden doors open into different colorful rooms with bathrooms that contain more marble floors and glass walls.

“We have nothing that’s white in our hotel,” Johnson said. “We have no white sheets, no white towels, no white anything. We have nice pastels, and our linens were made in Italy, our lamps were made in New York and our beds were custom-designed in Kansas City.”

Even with its historic feel, the Frederick has modern amenities like wireless Internet and flat-screen TVs in every room.

Haw is confident his investment will pay off.

“I’m pretty pragmatic about things like this,” he said. “I think it has a very good chance at working because, No. 1, (Isle of Capri) casino is two blocks away, and it attracts 5 million people per year. The other thing is the Katy Trail, which I believe to be one of the foremost resources for tourism in the state,” he said.

Glenn’s Café has been open on the first floor of the hotel since last fall and will eventually provide room service, Johnson said. Steve Cupp — who owns the restaurant of the same name that was originally in Columbia at Ninth and Cherry streets — is hoping it will be an integral part of the hotel. It has already drawn some of its old Columbia fans up to Boonville, Cupp said, even though “it’s off the beaten path.”

In the hotel’s first week of business, travelers on the Katy Trail, which is across the street from the hotel, from California and New York will be among the first to experience the hotel’s hospitality. “We’re going to train our staff to spoil people,” said assistant general manager Charlene Marcum.

Sarah Gallagher, economic development director for the city of Boonville, said the Hotel Frederick is one of about 400 buildings in the town listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“I think it’s an anchor business for the downtown historic heritage cultural tourism, and I think as a result of that property being opened, it already is doing good things and stimulating other businesses,” Gallagher said.

Bernice Sombart, whose family built the hotel in 1905 and owned it until 1973, when they sold it said she remembers when the Frederick hosted meetings and wedding receptions.

She said the hotel, which was operated by the Million family until 1962, when the Sombarts took over its operation, never brought in a lot of money, though U.S. 40 improved its business when it was built.

She said the Frederick did provide her a lot of memories before her husband’s work and her graduate studies led them to sell it.

“Our children were young when we started running it,” Sombart said. “Our son was about two years old, and he liked to greet people at the door.”

Bowen said that she visited the hotel about two or three times a month growing up. When she came back to Boonville to raise a family, she went there nearly every Sunday like just about everyone else in town.

“I can remember taking my daughter and she was two or three years old,” Bowen said. “She went around and gave everybody a hug because she thought that was what she was supposed to do, and that sort of typifies the atmosphere of the hotel.”

Bowen said she’s already made some trips to Glenn’s Café since it opened. She said she’s worried about how much money is being spent on the restoration, but she would be delighted to see it regain its role as “a beautiful place for social gatherings.”

The hotel’s designers have similar dreams. The hotel’s second floor has a large meeting room that includes a wooden pocket door to close off a smaller area. Johnson said it will be open to local meetings, art clubs and other groups in the city. She said they also hope to have live music at least once a month.

Along with the bar and Glenn’s Café, the first floor will feature four retail shops, including Smith and Burstert Antiques, run by Bruce Burstert and Carl Smith. Burstert has decorated the hotel with wooden antiques that are complemented by maps of Boonville and the surrounding area that Johnson described as “museum-class.”

The developers’ efforts to be environmentally friendly earned the Frederick a listing on the Green Hotels Association, one of only two Missouri hotels included on the list.

“Our intention is to lead in that way,” Jones said. For example, the hotel is pushing Boonville to begin recycling plastic.

Johnson said news of the hotel’s reopening has traveled fast and that she’s already received calls for reservations from people riding the trail, as well as people who want to book weddings.

As for rumors that the hotel is haunted, Johnson said she and the staff like to believe they have a female ghost in their midst.

“I feel there’s a presence here from a past guest,” Johnson said, “so maybe one of them liked it so much they stayed.”


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