While the President Hotel's renovation is on hold, the Aztec Room can't overcome its past.

Aztec Ruins 

While the President Hotel's renovation is on hold, the Aztec Room can't overcome its past.

I was excited by recent news that the 75-year-old President Hotel was slated for renovation. The development plans called for the hotel at 14th and Baltimore to include restored versions of the Drum Room restaurant and lounge as well as the famous Aztec Room, the hotel's posh meeting room. Last seen intact in the 1990 film Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, the Aztec Room is a masterpiece of interior fantasy created by noted artist Waylande Gregory.

But will the Aztec Room really return to its former home on the second floor of the long-shuttered hotel? Since mid-July, when Kansas City's TIF commission be-gan having second thoughts about dumping $20 million in tax-increment financing into the $49 million hotel project (see Casey Logan's "Legal Vacancy," July 18), various city officials have been scrambling to resolve the building's fate. They're slated to make a decision on Monday, August 12.

At least one participant in the project, architect Kevin Harden of the firm Gastinger Walker Harden, remains upbeat. "It's going to happen," he says. "There's just one obstacle, but we're working to take the project forward."

Even if the project does get a green light, returning the original Aztec- influenced moldings (made from plaster, horsehair, excelsior and wood) to Kansas City might involve overcoming another obstacle. The Aztec Room itself is sitting in a storage unit in Colorado. In 1994, Denver-based restaurateur and designer Pam McClary purchased the Gregory moldings -- including two large, fierce-looking skeleton gods that reportedly once held faceted glass "jewels." (Originally backlit by electric lights, they vanished decades ago.)

Harden is still negotiating with McClary (who declined to comment for this story) and says he "wants to get the original pieces back." Why wouldn't he? Downtown hasn't had anything so exotic since the Aztec Room went away. There isn't so much as a stripe left at the Zebra Room in what used to be the Aladdin Hotel (now the downtown Holiday Inn).

At least the elegant terrazzo floor is still in one piece in the Congress Room, the old ballroom at the top of the President. But, Harden says, for the last two decades only pigeons have been waltzing on it.

If the President's deal does go through and the pigeons get shooed out, designers planning the rehabbed Aztec and Drum rooms can contact graphic artist Joe Boeckholt for advice on anything from china patterns to silver plate. Boeckholt owns a variety of the old hotel's dinnerware, which has become a hot item on Ebay.

Boeckholt purchased a silver-plated sugar bowl engraved with the hotel monogram online for $45. Old menus go for $50, he says, and plates and soup bowls are selling for as much as $10 each. A demitasse cup and saucer go for $15. "The original china pattern, by Lamberton, is actually a little bit crude," Boeckholt says. "Sometimes the decals don't always line up perfectly. But that's one of the reasons I like it. It's not perfect."

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