Ponca City History Tid-Bits - Arcade Hotel
The "Original Arcade Hotel" was first built as a square frame building in the township of Cross, which was then North-West of Ponca City and was owned by G. W. Light.
But the Arcade was destined for bigger things and in 1897, four years after the Cherokee Strip, the structure was moved to First and Grand, Mrs. Annie Rhoades acquired the hotel ownership after it was moved and later hired J. W. Wiker in 1904 as the hotel manager who had been a manager for the famous "Harvey Houses" and at the time he was offered the position he was leasing the "Merchants Hotel" in Perry, the Arcade Hotel at that time was known as the "Rhoades House". The hotel became the grand lodge of a soon-to-be booming oil town.
On the average the hotel employed nine waitresses, four maids, three cooks, two dishwashers, a baker, and a silver girl. The waitresses, dressed in Harvey House style, wore white starched pinafores with black long-sleeved sateen blouses, black shoes and stockings and white headbands.
When E.W. Marland came to Ponca City in 1908 he was broke. He told Mr. Wiker he didn’t have any money but said he knew there was oil, and if Mr. Wiker would trust him for his money he would pay him when he hit oil. The day after Mr. Marland’s first well came in he walked into the kitchen where Mr. Wiker was going over the menus and asked him about his bill, the bill came to $850.00 and Mr. Marland wrote Mr. Wiker a check for the full amount and then gave him a $10.00 bill for his help.
Mr. Marland and his family continued to live at the Arcade Hotel until 1916, after making a fortune in oil, he built the 22-room house located at 1000 East Grand Avenue.
In 1911, L.H. Wentz came to Ponca City looking for oil, it was Mrs. Rhoades that befriended Wentz when he first came to Ponca City, and she furnished him a grubstake, which he was able to parlay into millions. After he made his fortune, he stayed on at the Arcade, where many a deal were struck. Wentz had two apartments, one of the main floor for dining and entertaining guests, the other, his bedroom quarters, on the third. Wentz never married, and he maintained his living quarters in the Arcade where he died July 10, 1949, at the age of 73.
Following Mrs. Rhoades’ death in 1932, Wentz acquired the Arcade in the name of the Adeline Foundation, which was named for his mother.
In 1944, J.W. Wiker retired as the Arcade Manager after 40 years of service with the hotel and Mrs. Laura D. Valentine, who previously was a hotel and apartment house operator in Montana, heard of the Arcade while visiting in Ponca City, took over the lease from Wiker on the building and purchased the furnishings.
After Wentz’s death--although being in the Adeline trust the hotel was not part of the Wentz Estate--Mrs. Valentine purchased the building for an undisclosed sum.
Prominent Visitors Of The Hotel
In a February 29, 1944, interview with J.W. Wiker published in “The Ponca City News”, when he announced his retirement from the Arcade Hotel to manage the Jens-Marie Hotel, he showed a deep interest in the small private dining room where he fed prominent visitors from all over the nation. Jim McGraw, Ponca City, republican national committeeman, and the Miller brothers frequently brought their guests to Wiker’s hotel to eat.
He remised one year when President William Howard Taft stopped by to consult with the Republican Party friends in Ponca City.
Then there were others, among them Teddy Roosevelt during the time that he was President, Branch Rickey, of the St Louis Cardinals, humorist Will Rogers, Baseball Player Ty Cobb, William Jennings Bryan, well known politician who died in 1925; Irvin S Cobb and Rex Bench, the authors, and many who were drawn to the Arcade by local political friends or by the 101 Ranch.
During the days when the Miller brothers were organizing the 101 Wild West Show, around 1906, Wiker served meals and accommodated many of the circus and show folk who came from all over the nation to be interviewed by George Arlington, the show’s first manager. “He set up his headquarters here at the Arcade and was in town a number of months,” Wiker stated.
In addition to these celebrities, Wiker was a host to many guests of the Miller brothers, who would stay at the Arcade before starting what was then a long ride to the White House. Not infrequent visitors of Wiker were paying guest of the Tenderfoot Camp, an early day type of Dude Ranch founded by the Millers. “These people sometimes would tire of the rugged life and come to the hotel for a day or so and then return,” Wiker explained.
Once in the summer of 1905, the Santa Fe railroad promoted an excursion to the 101 Ranch’s first big rodeo. The event was being staged in connection with the meeting of the National Editorial Association in Ponca City and the Miller brothers had promised the a rodeo.
“The special trains began coming in early on the weekend, (the rodeo was on Sunday) and became so congested in the yards near the hotel that they could not be gotten out until Monday night, “ remembered Wiker. The Millers had thought they had provided enough food and water for the crowds, but they hadn’t counted on so many, and visitors on the ranch were without food and water in the hot summer.
The early economic development of the city’s business such as the Arcade, grocery and clothing stores, depended on the cowboys who came in from surrounding ranches and ranch visitors, according to Wiker. The boys would come in from the huge ranches, load up their wagons with several weeks of provisions, and then enjoy the town life for a few days. The town had a number of places especially established to take care of the ranch wagons during the men’s stay and was studded with saloons for their entertainment.
Past Memories & The Decision To Raze The Hotel
In September 1973, a decision was made that the Arcade Hotel would be demolished.
In an interview with Mrs. Laura Valentine published in “The Ponca City News”, she noted “At its peak, the Arcade at one time had 22 out of the nearly 100-room hotel rented to 22 millionaires.”
She discontinued operating it as a hotel on July 1, 1967, blaming Ponca City ordinance that prohibited overnight parking on streets adjacent to the hotel.
She later converted the hotel into apartments, which she rented until July of 1972. She was the last occupant of the building.
When the last two-by-four fell and the mortar dust settles on the razed site of the Arcade Hotel at First and Grand the ghosts of three-quarters of a century faded away.
But there will always be memories. Memories of an extravagant era when paupers become philanthropists with over-night oil fortunes: ostrich feathers and seal coats replaced cilico bonnets and gingham dresses, and Pierce Arrow roadsters pulled up to the hitching post alongside trail herd mounts.
During the week of January 13, 1974, as demolition crews fell the historic structure those memories became more vivid for Mrs. Jackie McFarlin Laird, for 19 years a chef at the Arcade.
The following was gathered from an interview conducted with Jackie McFarlin, and published in “The Ponca City News” on January 13, 1974.
Jackie McFarlin was 11 years old when she was hired by Wiker as a glass and silver girl and for the next 30 years she divided her time between cooking at the Arcade and other hotels and the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch and Wild West Show until it went broke. From mid April to mid-November Jackie performed as a trick rider with the show for four seasons. The rest of the year was spent in the kitchen of the hotel.
Jackie learned fast and six months after she began working for Wiker he promoted her to fry cook, buying her a $35.00 cookbook called “The Epicurean.” By the time she was 15 years old she was head cook and known as the youngest woman chef in Oklahoma.
“We cooked on a big coal and wood cook stove and I can remember yet that Jim Bibs and Arthur Johnson used to start the fire each morning. They would cut a big slab of bacon in two, place it in the stove, then add the wood and pour coal oil on top of that and set it afire. We had a roaring fire all day long.”
After Wiker expanded and modernized the hotel most of the employees lived in quarters provided them.
“We had a bed, dresser, and two chairs in each room and shared one bathroom located in the center of the section,” Jackie recalls.
“Mrs. Rhodes used to come into the kitchen before going to banquets for a bit to eat. She said she never got enough to eat at those fancy parties,” Jackie smiles.
“She was strict about men wearing coats for dinner. She even bought a bunch of lightweight black coats to hand out to men as they went in.
But one day it was hotter than a $700 dollar-bill and a table had been reserved for nine or ten men. We were ready when in walked Zack Miller wearing an old buffalo coat. George had on a fur cap and Lew Wentz was wrapped up in a fur coat. John Alcorn, Jim McGraw and Harry Cragin were bundled up, too. All nine or ten of them had on something heavy.
They sat there eating their dinner; sweat pouring down their faces, doing their best not to laugh at Mrs. Rhodes who was pretty upset by this time. Well, after that, you didn’t have to wear a coat to get into the dining room.” Jackie laughs.
Another well-remembered guest at the hotel was E.W. Marland who, with his wife, Mary Virginia, lived in the front three-room apartment located off the hotel dining room.
Before the adoption of George and Lydie, Mary Virginia Marland was especially close to Jackie. She had a sewing machine and she made Jackie two cashmere dresses. Mrs. Marland often turned to Jackie to add that something special when she was entertaining.
“She asked me one day to prepare a different salad for a group of ladies she was expecting. I hadn’t been cooking very long but Mrs. Marland was delighted with my salad. It was the talk of the party and turned up later at several dinner tables.”
The salad?....“ I placed shredded lettuce on the plate, a scoop of cottage cheese in the center with half of pear turned upside down on top of that. I made red cheeks on the pear and then took cloves and made eyes, nose and a mouth. Then,” she grins, “I stuck a white candle into the pear mouth and lit it. It looked like a cigarette. Women were still sneaking around to smoke in those days.”
When it came to Jackie trying something new in the kitchen, it often gave dinner guest a start.
“One time Mr. Wiker asked me to make a special kind of biscuit or muffin for dinner.
Everyone had been served and one prominent lady reached for the muffin, looked horrified and frantically waved to the to the waitress. “Tell Jackie she spilled something in the biscuits and take them off the table quick.’ And that is how we introduced blueberry muffins in Ponca City,” laughs Jackie.
Along with the happy memories there were some sad ones, Jackie remembers the last time she saw George Miller. “ I had walked home from a show one evening and had stopped to chat with Mr. Wentz, Will Rogers and George in front of the hotel. George turned to Mr. Wentz and told him he better go home with him, but Wentz said he guessed he better stay in town. It was snowing, one of those bad winter nights, and about 15 minutes later George was killed when he lost control of his car rounding a curve down by the Ponca City Odd Fellows Cemetery,” Jackie shakes her head sadly.
Jackie left the Arcade to help Wiker manage the Jens-Marie Hotel when it first opened. But after two months she returned to the Arcade. She then left Ponca City and spent two years in California and nine in Guthrie, where she opened a hotel, before for returning to Ponca City and the Jens-Marie, where she stayed until 1959.
During the week of the leveling of the Arcade, Jackie stood across the street at First and Grand and would point out the crumbling rooms of Wentz, Marland, and the apartment for the waitresses and the bedroom of Mrs. Rhodes. “I was in hopes we could save it for historical purposes, but I guess it doesn’t mean much to folks nowadays. A lot of history was in those rooms. A lot of fortunes were made, won, and lost in there.”
The tall woman turned and walked slowly away, deep in thought with her memories and of hundreds of untold stories.
The ghosts of the early 1900’s, though homeless, need not be forgotten or restless.
A tribute of the old Arcade Hotel by Robert Hardee
Ponca City History Tid-Bits - Arcade Hotel