In Memoriam: The Waldorf Hotel in Andover

Waldorf Hotel, May 2010, South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office

Waldorf Hotel, May 2010, South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office

The Waldorf Hotel in Andover, South Dakota was built in 1903 and was a destination for travelers.  It had a reception room, a dining room, a barbershop, and a pool hall.  Grand hotels in towns large and small across the state were the most iconic signifiers of the town’s aspirations, the booster spirit, as described in an entire chapter of Daniel J. Boorstin’s The Americans in 1965.   “In America first-class hotels appeared even before the railroad.  They were, in fact, often built for the purpose of attracting railroads, along with settlers, newspapers, merchants, customers, lawyers, doctors, salesmen, and all the other paraphernalia of metropolitan greatness” [Boorstin, 141].  From Boorstin, Americans of the nineteenth century created community in hotels, they gossiped, they rested from their travels, they did business over a meal…  Hotels were both public and private, they represented the “fluidity of dynamic America” [Boorstin, 147].

According to its state historic survey record, the Waldorf was built 400 feet south of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad line in Andover.  The hotel hosted countless travelers on the railroad as well as salesmen, farmers, and promoters.  The town residents held ice cream socials on its porch and orchestras from Minneapolis gave performances at the hotel.  On Saturday nights, men of the community would gather at the public baths for their weekly scrub.  Salesmen used a room in the hotel basement, the “Trunk Room” for showcasing their products.  From the 1979 nomination, “Andover is an excellent example of how the railroad, the hotel and the American small town were closely bound together at that point in time.”

Waldorf Hotel, May 2010, South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office

Waldorf Hotel, May 2010, South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office

The Waldorf closed down in the 1970s.  It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.  In the 1990s, a group of interested people formed the group Waldorf Hotel Preservation Inc. to work towards preservation of the neglected building.  They did work on the roof and windows, but the damage moved faster than they could.  One of the rear walls crumbled years ago leaving interior rooms exposed to the elements.  In 2003, KELO ran this story on the history of the hotel and the need for its preservation.  With the combined difficulties of fundraising and finding a viable  use for a relatively grand building in a small community, they sold the building c.2006 to a man in California who planned to rehabilitate the building.  When the new owner passed away, his estate ignored the building.  In 2013, George Thompson wrote this piece for Dakotafire on the desperate need that the Waldorf faced.

Very recently, a section of the façade collapsed as well and the town pulled down that portion of the building. [Photos on the Aberdeen American News]

A sober reminder that the challenges of historic preservation in small communities cannot be overstated.

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