John F. Kennedy Slept Here...
(written by Megan of the Archives Staff)
...at the Stoddard Hotel.
Opened on June 23, 1904 and located at the corner of 4th and State Streets (across from the old post office and kitty corner from the courthouse), the Stoddard was the grandest hotel in La Crosse.
Recognizing the need for a good hotel in La Crosse, a group of local businessmen put up the money to create a local stock holding company, called the Northern Hotel Company, to build a grand hotel at a cost of $200,000 (almost $5 million in 2013 dollars).
The hotel was named for Colonel Thomas B. Stoddard, the first mayor of La Crosse, and opened with 107 guest rooms (plus 14 rooms for servants who accompanied the guests), a phone in each room (an amazing luxury in 1904), plus its own electrical generator and well.
1928 brought the beginning of a major renovation and refinishing of the interior of the hotel with 123 rooms for guests (hired help no longer lived at the hotel) and a change from the American Plan (three meals included in the price) to the more popular European Plan (no meals included).
Even though the renovations were halted by the Depression, they were resumed and August 1935 saw the opening of a greater Stoddard with the Crystal Room (the dining room) described as the most modern and beautiful, the Willow Room for private parties, the Wisconsin Room cocktail lounge and bar, and remodeled guest rooms and baths. Another complete renovation in 1947 included an addition with 60 more rooms.
As a grand hotel, the Stoddard had a grand guest list over the years. John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon stayed there when they were on the campaign trail. President William Howard Taft stayed there in 1909 when he came to dedicate the new YMCA building. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright stayed there, as did Metropolitan Opera of New York stars Marian Anderson and Lily Pons. Elvis Presley stayed there. Other famous folks on the guest list included Sinclair Lewis, Tallulah Bankhead, Liberace, Gloria Swanson, the Trapp Family, Cole Porter, Gene Autry, Abbot and Costello, Jack Dempsey, Harry Blackstone, Lawrence Welk, Spike Jones, Guy Lombardo, and Ann Landers.
Times change, and buildings change with the times. Long time Stoddard Hotel owner and manager John Elliott sold the hotel in 1972 to a group of investors who planned to keep it open but it was not to be. Other more modern hotels opened in La Crosse and the Stoddard became a residential hotel and the home of transients. The partnership closed the hotel January 6, 1980 with the intent and plan to turn it into apartments, especially for the elderly who were residents there. Zoning issues and money issues defeated the plans. The Stoddard Hotel was bought by the local bank that held the debt and they could not find anyone interested in it. Assets from the hotel were sold at public auction and the Stoddard was razed in 1982. The site is now a parking lot.
For more information on La Crosse buildings or other aspects of La Crosse history contact the La Crosse Public Library Archives.