CONTINUING COVERAGE: FLOODS OF 2016

Des Moines’ Oldest Hotel Looks Back at History, Ahead to Future

DES MOINES, Iowa -- For the first time since the Civil War, there is no room at the Savery -- and there won’t be for a while.

“In our industry," says Matt Kiernan, sales manager at the Renaissance Savery Hotel, "you have to change every so often just to keep people’s interest.”

It’ll be a $20 million renovation for the Savery that touches every square inch and improves a place that already has many intangibles.

“We’re the only boutique hotel in downtown Des Moines," says sales and marketing director, Tara McFarling, "our location has always been prime.”

In fact, it's even better, given the rejuvenated Cowles Commons across the street and its proximity to Wells Fargo Arena, the East Village, Court Avenue and the Des Moines Civic Center.

But remaking a classic takes a deft touch, and ownership knows it.

“When our company purchased the hotel," says McFarling of the Savery's parent company, Marriott Hoteals, "they made a commitment to keep her as is.”

“The marble floor that we’re going to retain, is the original marble floor," Kiernan adds, referring to the lobby, "that’s not being touched.”

This is not actually the first Savery Hotel—it’s at least the third. There was another on this spot that opened in 1888, and before that—the Hotel Kirkwood. James Savery opened it in 1865, and then the name changed in 1879 (it was later rebuilt in 1930).

With that much history, you can understand why the Savery name is worth preserving.

“It’s extremely important that their name goes on with the hotel,” says McFarling.

Their name. That’s important.

It wasn’t just James Savery, it was his wife, Annie who loomed large in early Des Moines.

She was an attorney, an unrelenting warrior for women’s rights and the apple of James’s eye.

“The love for his wife is what kind of kept him going," McFarling adds. "The notes that we have say that when she passed, he lost his love for the hotel and died shortly after.”

What didn’t die was the classic façade, the 11-story view which was once the highest in all of Iowa, and the setting for the many stories to come.

"Carol Channing in ’82," says Kiernan, "she came to play ‘Hello Dolly’ and the one demand she had—she had to have fresh air. So we actually took the window out of her room, put a window that you could open, and after she departed we put the window back.”

There are at least four other hotels coming to downtown by 2018, and the Savery plans to be open and up for competition -- packing character and cool -- that only a storied history can provide.

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When it opened in 1919, the current Savery was the first hotel in Iowa to have a separate lavatory for every room. Since then, it’s been listed on the National Register of Historic places. It’s scheduled to reopen in the spring of next year.