PAOLA — Luanne Debrick was only 6 years old in 1940, but she’ll never forget looking up onto the front porch of the Jackson Hotel in Paola and seeing movie stars Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes.

“They were sitting in old rocking chairs on the front porch, just waving to people,” Debrick said.

The actors were in town for the world premiere of their new film “Colorado,” which was featured at the opening of “The Paola” theater. At the time, it was the first theater in the Midwest to install the latest reflector type screen.

Other community members remember seeing famous actresses Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance staying at the Jackson Hotel.

Over the years, the stories have become community lore and part of the historic charm of the Jackson Hotel, which is turning 100 years old this year. The history of a hotel building at the current location of 139 W. Peoria St. dates back even further, though.

The Union Hotel was built there in 1857, and it was later called Reed’s Hotel when Barney Reed purchased the building to enhance his livery holdings to the east. He sold it in 1897, and it became the LaClede Hotel.

Mrs. Lucy Jackson eventually bought the old frame building and, in 1921, replaced most of it (retaining part of a back wall and an addition on the southwest corner) with a new 50-room (with baths) brick hotel containing sitting rooms, library and a dining room. She installed steam heat and electrical lighting.

Famed architect George Washburn did the design of the new hotel.

The luxurious building was a Paola showpiece. The famed Glass Door Restaurant opened there in 1959.

Harley Keeton purchased both the Commercial and the Jackson hotels in 1964. When he razed the Commercial, the Jackson was the only hotel in town.

Over the years, though, the condition of the Jackson Hotel worsened, and the building was vacated. In 1992, city officials ordered that it be razed or renovated.

There were multiple attempts by groups to try and restore the hotel, but all of them hit roadblocks until Gary and Diana Hink purchased the property in 2012. The structure had been vacant for more than 20 years at that point and extensive work was required.

Gary said it was a labor of love. He was born in 1943 and his family lived between Paola and Louisburg. He has fond childhood memories of visiting downtown Paola with his family to take cream to the creamery and shop in downtown Paola. He was in awe of the buildings, including the Jackson Hotel.

“The Square was like the Plaza then,” Hink said. “Every parking place was filled up.”

Hink has visions of downtown Paola being revitalized once again, and purchasing and fixing up the Jackson Hotel was his way of helping make that happen.

It wasn’t an easy process, but Hink painstakingly worked to renovate the hotel, including restoring the original wood floors and tin ceiling tiles.

He created loft-style apartments on the upper floors with energy efficient, modern fixtures. They immediately became attractive to local senior residents.

Hink also removed a small building to the south to make room for parking and a courtyard. That building had been the laundry location for the original hotels.

Today, the first floor of the hotel is home to Café Latte at the Jackson. The café offers breakfast and lunch fare, as well as an assortment of homemade pastries.

The exterior of the hotel also has a new feature. Hink recently installed a plaque on the front façade of the building that details the hotel’s 100-year history. Visitors can read the plaque while standing in the same place on the front porch where Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes once stood.

Kay Tucker, who was the first resident to move into a senior apartment at the Jackson Hotel, said she loves living in the historical building. She especially loves how she can walk downstairs for lunch or a drink at the café.

Despite the hotel’s illustrious past, Tucker said she hasn’t spotted any famous ghosts yet during her time living upstairs.

“I keep expecting Gabby Hayes to show up,” she said with a smile.

Hink said the building is incredibly sound, and it makes him happy to see the community enjoying it once again.

“It’s a very good feeling to know we saved the building and made good use out of it,” Hink said. “Hopefully, there is another 100 years of use.”

Senior Managing Editor Brian McCauley can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or brian.mccauley@miconews.com.

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