By GAIL PARSONS
The 82-year-old historic Hotel Sunflower, 409 NW Third St., which was one of the first hotels in the world to have a system of air conditioning, went up for sale Thursday with an asking price of $950,000.
Owner Dick Near said he and his wife Virginia are choosing to sell the 50-unit apartment that they have owned for 30 years to afford them more time to travel and visit with family that includes six children, 19 grandchildren and one great-grandchild who are spread out from California to New York.
“It will free us up to do some things,” Dick said.
The couple purchased the building in 1983. Twenty one years earlier, in 1962, it was then converted from a hotel into an apartment building. Dick explained that when they bought it, he was a United Methodist minister serving in Chapman.
“We loved this part of the state and knew I would be retiring. We wanted something that we could do together,” he said. “It had been up for sale for a long time. We were able to get it for a very good price.”
Around 2000 Nance Scholl with the Dickinson County Heritage Commission approached the couple about getting the building onto the Kansas Historic Registry. Nance said the process to get the building listed, which was approved in 2001, was a bit easier than some of the others because of the tremendous amount of documentation that was available.
“It was such a big deal for it to be built, there was newspaper article after newspaper article after newspaper article as it was being built,” she said. “It was a part of the growing of Abilene during our coming of age. It was a big deal.”
Not only did the 8-story building feature every modern amenity of its day, each room came equipped with a radio. Hotel Sunflower was also the only hotel in the country that had an air-conditioning system that allowed guests to control the air temperature in their rooms. Each room had a cooling unit that was supplied with ice water from a central location.
It also didn’t hurt the nomination process that Hotel Sunflower was a regular stop for President Eisenhower.
“This is where Eisenhower lived,” Dick said. “When the war was over his parents had died and their home sold. A portion of this building was kept open for him to live whenever he came back.”
The Nears and their real estate agent James Holland with Black and Company Realtors expressed doubt that it will be a quick sale.
“We think it could take two or three years,” Dick said.
Holland agreed that although it is “a unique property,” there are not many comparable sales and it has a very limited market.
“There will be a lot of phone calls made to try and get it sold,” he said.
But whoever does get it, will be getting a “beautiful property” with a tremendous amount of memories and history, Virginia said. “This is where high school graduations were held, proms, bands would come in. There were dances and receptions.”
On the business side of it, the building has been “kept in top-notch condition. Whoever buys it will not be getting an eight-story pile of rubble,” she said.
A few interesting facts about Hotel Sunflower:
The original construction cost in 1930 was $250,000, which is equivalent to $3,337,224 in today’s currency.
The project had 225 investors.
The hotel had 100 guest rooms.
Work began on Sept. 12, 1930 and the hotel opened for business only eight months later on May 18, 1931.
The telephone switchboard had the capacity for 100 telephones. The hotel’s phone number was 1600. It was the only hotel between Kansas City and Denver that provided a private phone and radio in each room, although this was an accepted practice in the finer hotels in the country.