Shadow of the Leland Hotel

When the Leland Hotel opened in 1927 it was the tallest building in downtown Mansfield, so naturally it cast a considerable shadow.

The grand old hotel has been gone now for more than 40 years, and yet it still casts a shadow in the city.

Its presence was woven so intimately into the fabric of Mansfield that folks who regularly passed through its doors still feel its absence like something of a weird dream.  People still—40 years later—shake their heads when they speak of its demolition like it is still too unbelievable to grasp.

When the wrecking ball first struck the side of the Leland there was a shudder of seismic grief that echoed through downtown.

It was a poetic moment too, because those first poundings of the wrecking ball just bounced off the walls.  It seemed symbolic of the unassailable high regard with which the landmark was held by the community.

The Leland had been built so solidly it defied removal; it was established so firmly in the community heart that it still has not been removed.

Everyone who grieved the Leland grinned a painful smile of sad vindication when the demolition crew had to find a bigger wrecking ball.

It was more difficult to tear down folks’ fond memories than any demolition crew could imagine.

Forty years later the dust still hasn’t settled.


There were a hundred thousand memories in that place: senior class proms and homecoming dances; wedding receptions and award banquets; famous performers and countless Union bands.

And a thousand thousand celebratory pieces of cake.

When the building came down it wasn’t just a pile of bricks, it was orchestras and dancing to Big Bands; luncheons and benefits, conferences and recitals, and too many bridge clubs and poker games to possibly tally.

The Leland Hotel came into life with such broad hope, it was built to last forever.  Who could have imagined in the 1920s that forever was less than 50 years.

The Mansfield Leland Hotel stood at the SW corner of Park Avenue West and Walnut Street, today the site of a parking lot.

The Blueprint

There were a lot of hotels in town in the early 20th century, and Mansfield was a city known for the excellence of its hotels.  So when the Leland was proposed it was intended to be king of them all.

Their advertising logos through the years always had a coat of arms as if to ensure its royal status.

In the 1910s the main national tourist route in America—the Lincoln Highway—had been routed through Mansfield, and accordingly the city wanted to offer state-of-the-art amenities to every passing traveler.

So in 1925 a massive civic drive was undertaken to raise capital for the project: locally funded, locally owned and originally designed as the Richland.

Architect’s sketch of proposed lobby for The Richland.

Before it was completed however, the operation of Mansfield’s new hotel was turned over to the chain of Leland hotels.  Everyone was pleased about that because the chain had major hotels in a dozen metropolitan cities and the Leland name brought a new level of class and big-city cachè to downtown Mansfield right when the industrial boom was carving us a larger star on the nation’s maps.

It was completed at the staggering cost of $556,000, and it gave Mansfield a certain sort of American business legitimacy so that when the big boys came in from New York and Hollywood for Louis Bromfield’s premiere, or a Westinghouse showcase, there was a grand lobby, a high class lounge, and a stylish ballroom where they could all smoke their cigars.

The Leland was designed by Mansfield architect Vernon Redding, whose other local landmarks include the Mansfield Public Library and Mansfield General Hospital.
A 1928 view of the Leland from Park Avenue West at Mulberry.
Lobby of the Leland from the Registration Desk.
The kitchen staff of the Leland served a coffee shop, a dining room, a ballroom, and of course Room Service.

Tourists

The dynamics of travel in America changed within a couple decades of the Leland’s young life.  After WWII a network of interstate highways was developed that streamlined transportation away from the less convenient charms of hometown traffic.

For Mansfield it meant the majority of folks passing through Richland County were out on I-71 or State Route 30 instead of driving past the Leland.

This presented challenges to the downtown hotel that were addressed in 1952 by a massive reconfiguration of the structure.

In order to attract the attention of travellers it was advertised as the Leland Motor Hotel.

The 1952 reconfiguration of the Leland Hotel included a new wing that added 100 more rooms, the Village Green cocktail Lounge, the Crown Room dining facility, and the Johnny Appleseed Coffee Shop.
Guests who lived at other hotels in downtown Mansfield would come to spend the afternoon in the lobby of the Leland because it had a color television and comfy chairs. (Photo by Jeff Sprang)
This photo was taken during the last days of the Leland: windows had been removed and its sidewalk was blockaded.
Anyone who visited the bar in the Village Green cocktail lounge at the Leland was familiar with Joe Kearney, whose friendly laugh filled the hotel for decades.
Big Joe Kearney visited the rubble of his old haunts along with the restaurant’s hostess in 1976.

Elegy

The wonderful thing about a grand hotel is the mythic warp and weft of human tales woven through time within four walls: a hundred rooms; a hundred stories times hundreds of days and nights.

And it is so much an analogy of life: checking in; checking out.

It is a truly epic compilation of intrigue and passions in a thousand separate plotlines passing by and through one another to weave a pattern that is ever different and yet always the same.

We have battle sites in this country where a thousand lives met in conflict in only a single day, and these places are dedicated and preserved as sacred spaces so that time might be tender there.

Yet here on this site that served as a confluence for thousands and thousands of people at landmark moments of their lives, the space is paved into a parking lot.

What remains for us today as the sole memorial of this historic spot is the hotel’s compass rose.  It is embedded in the sidewalk at the place where the front door of the Leland once opened to our community, and welcomed countless people from all over the world who were all Mansfielders for a short time while they were registered at the Leland Hotel.



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