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Keenan Hotel 1961

By Randy Harter

Fort Wayne Reader

2017-12-02


In the spring of 1923, the Journal Gazette touted that not only had the beautiful South Side High School just been completed the previous year, but that currently the city was “a beehive of activity” with an additional four, million dollar construction projects underway. Those were the First National Bank Building (now home to Star Bank) on West Berry Street, the new home office of Lincoln National Life Insurance Company (on Harrison at Douglas), the International
Harvester Plant (Pontiac at Bueter Road), and the first major hotel to be built in Fort Wayne since the Hotel Anthony in 1908, the Hotel Keenan at the southwest corner of Harrison and Washington.

The Keenan’s, led by the father Hugh, were a hotel family and managed accommodations in other states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Iowa. They leased the soon to open in 1908, Hotel Anthony from the Fort Wayne Hotel Co. whose organizers and stockholders were made up of a group of the city’s leading business people that had determined the city’s need for a modern first class hotel. Hugh’s son James F. Keenan, a Notre Dame graduate, arrived in Fort Wayne in 1909 and began managing the Anthony (which he ran until 1947 when F. Harold Van Orman assumed the lease), and then in 1922 decided to build a competing hotel of his own on Harrison just three blocks away. Designed by the noted local architect, Charles R. Weatherhogg, who had designed the Anthony fifteen years earlier, the Keenan rose twelve stories above ground with an additional two stories below.

Built of reinforced concrete, brick, and with Indiana Bedford Limestone facing off the outside of the first four floors, the lobby had light-colored marble floors, with darker marble baseboards, walnut trim throughout, velour drapes, overstuffed furniture upholstered in mohair and two guest elevators. With second story mezzanine and private dining rooms above, Egyptian Coffee Shop in the lower level, and elegant main dining room off the lobby, the building comprised a total of
117,000 square feet. The Keenan boasted a Presidential Suite and nearly 300 additional guest rooms, which saw 50 years’ worth of luminaries including notables from Amelia Earhart to Presidents Truman and Kennedy.

But small guest rooms and the public’s changing tastes took its toll on the Keenan. Despite a major remodeling in 1972, revenues continued to decline, which were coupled with fires at the hotel in 1969 and 1974. While no loss of life occurred, the fires did result in injures and pointed out the safety limitations of the decades old high-rise hotel. Added to the aforementioned had been the opening in 1968 of the new Sheraton Hotel at Washington & Jefferson, businesses leaving downtown for the suburbs, and other modern hotels coming out along I-69 in the early 1970’s. Under the direction of James Keenan’s daughter, Helen Keenan Centlivre, the hotel was closed in May of 1974, and with 330 pounds of high-velocity gelatin dynamite, reduced to rubble later that year on October 20th. Part of The Grand Wayne Convention Center now resides on the Keenan’s former site.

(Image courtesy ACPL)

A tip of the hat to Creager Smith for dating the image. Randy Harter is a Fort Wayne historian, author, and the history/architecture guide for Fort Wayne Food Tours.

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