Today the name Joseph Abraham is mostly unknown among Claremore residents. Fact is he may have only been here one time because there appears to be no knowledge of addition visits.
On the other hand he may have been in Claremore many times and may have even lived here for a time. All I know for sure he was described as a “wealthy man who suffered from rheumatism.”
The above said, Mr. Abraham left a mark on the city that after 85 years remains apparent today. That influence reins tall and impressive over downtown Claremore.
Because of this gentleman the impressive Will Rogers Hotel was built.
Having recently come in possession of the accompanying photo on this page, I decided to do a little research on the topic.
While there were other locations known for their mineral baths, Abraham chose to come to Claremore in the late 1920s. For some time he suffered from rheumatism, a disease marked by inflammation and pains in the joints and muscles.
Where he took the bath here is unknown. They apparently cured him of his aches and pains. While he was delighted with the results of the baths, Abraham must have felt lodging in Claremore could be improved.
A farmer was digging a well in 1903 and accidently discovered a foul smelling mineral water. Soon after the discovery Claremore was dotted with several radium water bath houses. An area a mile east of downtown prospered with several of these and became known as Radium Town.
Business was booming. Thousands of railroad passengers made the trip to Claremore to take the now well-known healing water treatments.
Rogers County’s favorite son Will Rogers, advertised the baths when he noted in his nation-wide newspaper column they “could cure a person of all known ailments but being a Democrat.”
At this time Claremore also had hotels like the Sequoyah, Mason, Lindell, Elk, Berwich, St. James, Main, and Bungalow. Most, if not all, provided transportation to and from Radium Town.
Why not build a hotel establishment downtown that would attract upscale clientele and offer baths under the same roof?
To conduct this project Abraham turned it over to his son Louis. With additional financial backing from friends Walter Krumrei and Morton Harrison, construction of the new hotel began in 1929.
The new fireproof construct was made of concrete and steel. Despite coming at the time of the infamous stock market crash, the investors spared no expenses. Cost to erect the building came to $321,000.
Constructed on the corner of Main (Third Street) and Catalayah (later Lynn Riggs Blvd.), it towered over the rest of downtown. There were 78 rooms and seven apartments on the first five stories. The sixth level was devoted to the mineral baths, steam rooms and massage tables.
The lobby and hallways had a Spanish décor with stylish furnishings. It was meant to resemble Will Rogers’ home in Santa Monica, California.
It was dedicated on February 7, 1930. The owners attempted to have the famed humorist fly in to preside over the ceremonies for the hotel named in his honor. However, a prior commitment kept him from attending.
Will and members of his family did stay in the hotel during later visits.
After its opening the Will Rogers Hotel quickly became a popular meeting place for travelers and local residents alike. A coffee shop off the main lobby offered good food. The second floor included the formal ballroom. Many wedding receptions were held there through the years. The hotel was the city’s main social center for near half century.
Like most all good things, the apparent end came in the late 1980s. The hotel closed when business left off. The discovery of penicillin and other drugs caused the once popular radium baths to become obsolete. The well said to be a block away was plugged up.
The opening of the Will Rogers Turnpike in 1957 didn’t help matters. Claremore remained as a tourist stop due to various attractions, but most visitors no longer stayed overnight.
Once closed the elements were not kind to the old grand lady. Windows were broken out and vandals caused damage. Marauding pigeons and other birds were a major problem and heavy rains caused the basement to flood.
Something needed to be done. Like so many other Claremore landmarks, total demolition seemed to be the answer. Not so. The building had been built to last. Maybe the interior was a mess but the outer foundation walls were solid.
It would cost a massive amount to tear the building down.
Next an auction was conducted. There were no bidders.
Then in January 1994 the old stagnant building breathed new life. The Rogers County Historical Society stepped in. They purchased the building and lot for $1.
During the following three years funding was sought and volunteers helped clean the interior. In February 1997, a $2.5 million rehabilitation started.
Today, looking almost exactly like it did when opened eight and a half decades ago, the building is home to senior adults.
The name Will Rogers Hotel remains proudly atop the building. It has been named to the National Registry on Historic Places.