By Jim Orr
The Observer 

For Sale: Wheat Growers Hotel

 

August 4, 2022

Jim Orr

The brother and sister team of Ed Avila and Mitzie Johnson stand in the old Wheat Growers Hotel lobby with Mitzie's dog Mia. Ed and Mitzie are looking to sell the Kimball landmark to a developer who will treat it with the respect it deserves.

Kimball's landmark Wheat Growers Hotel, a treasure chest of local history and lore, is on the market.

Wheat Growers devotee Ed Avila, a former owner who reacquired the property 1½ years ago, told the Observer that he seeks a buyer dedicated to revitalizing the the once grand inn across from the railroad tracks at the corner of East 1st and South Oak.

"Now is the right time," he said.

Avila said he and his sister, Mitzie Johnson, have served as stewards of the iconic property since it was gifted to them by Kent and Sue Worker, who owned it from 2006 to 2021.

In the 18 months since, Johnson and Avila have focused on making the building and its grounds more presentable after years of deterioration.

Avila said their focus has been "to make the property presentable to future developers" for restoration.

They have swept the entire building of scrap and rubble, removed buckets of nails from exposed beams, covered broken window spaces with plastic, removed weeds on the grounds, and gotten rid of outdoor growth that crept inside.

The Wheat Growers, with its extraordinary exterior brickwork and what Avila describes as "good bones," literally is a shell of what it once was.

The Wheat Growers Hotel was constructed in 1918 by Frank Cunningham and considered by some accounts as the "most glamorous Hotel between Omaha and Denver." With 86 rooms, a restaurant and a ballroom, the hotel became a hub for railroad travelers and locals alike.


It closed in 1982 was listed in 2002 in the National Register of Historic Places.

Future President Dwight Eisenhower, with his wife Mami, son Doug and Mami's parents, stayed there in 1919. The "Eisenhower Suite," now a rundown upstairs room, remains an attraction to Johnson and Avila.

Another president, William Howard Taft, stayed at the Wheat Growers in the 1940s long after he left office.

Then there are legends of the Wheat Growers being haunted, a hidden Prohibition speakeasy on the grounds, and the remains of a man being buried somewhere in the bowels in the building.

Johnson said she wants the next owners committed to the "historic nature" of the Wheat Growers, not someone looking to flip it for quick profit. No selling price has been set at this point.

For now, Avila and Johnson plan to promote Wheat Growers history next month with Farmers Day weekend tours.

 
 

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