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The Aldridge: Jewel of Historic Downtown Shawnee

Its place in Shawnee's skyline is absolute; if you're anywhere near Shawnee’s downtown district, you'll be able to easily pick out the Aldridge Building, a structure that carries a significant amount of history. Known as Shawnee's first "skyscraper," the building is ten stories tall, and is currently used as housing for seniors in Shawnee's community.

In some ways, the Aldridge has lived a life like many of its current residents. It has had its share of peaks and valleys, has had its day in the limelight as a luxurious destination hotel that hosted civic events, suffered in the Great Depression, and has changed hands multiple times in a period where its destiny was uncertain.

If these walls could talk, they would tell of Shawnee's own history, and the many ups and downs the city itself has faced. Even now, it stands as a symbol for the city's past prosperity, its current strength, and its hope for a prosperous future.

In the early 1900s, Shawnee was a happening railroad town, one of two in the state, and even pulled enough popularity to be considered for the state capitol. As we know, things didn’t turn out that way. Nevertheless, the railroads continued to stop in Shawnee, and the community enjoyed a comfortable prosperity in the time before the Great Depression.

It was just before then that the Hilton Phillips Hotel was built, the result of a $750,000 investment from oil baron named Phillips. The hotel opened its doors a mere nine months before the Great Depression. This name would fade away as the economy took a dip and Phillips was forced to sell it off to the Aldridge Hotel Co. in 1930.

A black and white photo of a city street lined with Model Ts and a looming hotel.
The Aldridge became a signature structure on Shawnee's downtown skyline in the 20s.

Back at the height of its glory, the Aldridge Hotel was a modern marvel. Host to 200 rooms (each with window views of the city!) and full of amenities, the hotel included a proprietary water system, bakery, laundry and coffee shop, as well as several dining and banquet rooms. The hotel's venues were beloved, and quickly became Shawnee's center for civic functions and social gatherings.

Original hotel lobby in the 1930s.
Original hotel lobby in the 1930s.

Unfortunately, the Aldridge Hotel would begin to show its age with time. The U.S. Department of Labor discovered the presence of asbestos in the boiler room, and the building was closed in 1994. While it was placed on the register of historic buildings in 2000, the Aldridge was vacant at the time, save for a handful of pigeons staying on the roof.

But the building's story doesn't stop there.

Seven million dollars’ worth of remodels were done to update the structure, and in 2005, the Aldridge Hotel reopened as the Aldridge Apartments. Owned and operated by Express Management Inc., the complex is for seniors 62 and older, and has one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Modern lobby in the historic Aldridge Hotel.
Modern lobby in the historic Aldridge Hotel.

The ways in which the Aldridge has been renewed and repurposed are a microcosm of Shawnee’s greater downtown district and the extensive efforts taken to revitalize it. Beautiful new streets and walkways, park signage, wayfinding and many renovated buildings will stand out to both visitors and long-time residents alike. Yet, even amidst these improvements, the history of the district is still plain to see. The Aldridge is but one prominent example.

The lobby and barbershop are open to public visits, and the Aldridge's historical ballroom is often still available for public booking (though it is currently going through renovations). For more information, call The Aldridge at 275-9500.

Want to enjoy more of Shawnee's excellently preserved historic downtown? Check out all the things do in this guide to downtown!



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