Marquette makes history again

Thursday, September 9, 2004

In many senses, the Marquette is a large chunk of Cape Girardeau history. But sometimes, it's the small things that stand out.

Sitting in the middle of a crowd of more than 500, eagerly awaiting the start of Wednesday's grand reopening of the Marquette Tower, 85-year-old E.P. Kurre wasn't concerned with the pomp and circumstance of the proceedings, the speech of Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson or even that of Gov. Bob Holden. He was thinking back on a piece of pie he had eaten over 75 years ago, not long after the Marquette's first christening.

"It was coconut pie a la mode," Kurre mused. "I was eating it in the fancy restaurant here in the Marquette. That was my first time in Cape."

For decades after it opened in 1928, the old Marquette Hotel at the corner of Fountain Street and Broadway was the setting of many a Cape Girardeau memory for travelers and residents alike. At its own christening on Wednesday, the revitalized Marquette Tower again served as the backdrop, as developers, city officials and Holden congratulated each other and the residents of Cape Girardeau on the salvation of a piece of this city's past.

"When I was running for mayor in 2002, the Marquette kept coming up," Knudtson said. "I wondered why were people so passionate about it. I later found out it's because it stood for something. It was part of the very fabric that made this town so great."

In 2000, after standing abandoned for several decades, the Marquette Hotel was saved by a group of historic preservation students at Southeast Missouri State University who got the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then in 2002, Prost Builders of Jefferson City bought the building by using several tax credits and a 10-year contract to locate several state government agencies in the building. After two years of work restoring the building to its original appearance, the government agencies moved in at the end of June.

Holden said that when he was first elected, he made it a priority to move government offices into downtown areas of the city whenever possible. He told the gathering that the Marquette project was the first in the state to test that initiative.

"Downtown restaurants and shops will benefit from that expanded work force," Holden said. In his speech, Knudtson indicated that Cape Girardeau's downtown was already starting to see that benefit.

Once the speeches had wrapped and the ribbon was cut, the doors to the Marquette were opened to the public for tours conducted by Southeast historic preservation students. With the old Model A's of the Capaha Antique Car Club lining Fountain Street, and the bounce of ragtime brass filling the Marquette lobby, patrons got their first look at the remodeled interior. And for all the recreated charms of the 1920s and 1930s, the most authentic bridge to that past was the mixed din of conversation among the guests, especially the reminiscence of the almost 30 former hotel employees in attendance.

"It looks the same as it did in 1953," said Don Priest, gazing at the high ceiling for the first time in years.

Priest had been a bellhop. His mother worked in the lounge and his grandmother was the head chef in the Marquette restaurant in the 1940s. He met his wife, Sue, here when she worked in the coffee shop. Their wedding reception was held in the Marquette banquet hall.

"The last time we were here, tile was falling off the walls," Sue Priest said. "I'm really glad they did this."

trehagen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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