AMBASSADOR MOTOR HOTEL
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What luck when we received an email from Tim Bailey, a former busboy and waiter at the Ambassador Hotel. Tim told us that his mother, Mary Ann Stewart, worked at the hotel for decades, and when it closed the manager allowed her to save two large scrapbooks and hundreds of photos of this storied establishment. Tim had donated these materials to the Historical Society, and for that we are eternally grateful! We are posting some of the many photos here, but there are many more available at our office.
The Ambassador Resort Motor Hotel
was located on 4.5 acres at 5225 Wayzata Blvd., at the
southwest corner of Highways 100 and 12. It opened in
The hotel was designed and built by brothers Oscar J. and Joseph Husby. John Thompson, who also owned Diamond Jim’s, was listed as an owner in early press accounts, but his involvement was apparently very short-lived. The Husbys were involved with the hotel management, and oversaw the facilities daily.
The hotel’s first General Manager was Gilbert F. Swenberger, the former manager of the Brainerd Theater and/or the General Manager of Berger Amusement Co. for 23 years and/or the manager of Sheik’s Cafe. Swenberger was a Park resident, living at 1430 Louisiana Ave. Swenberger resigned and was replaced by Raymond P. Bennett on May 7, 1962. Bennett was a director of the American Motor Hotel Association.
The Assistant Manager was Mrs. Adeline Lindboe, former manager of the Biltmore Hotel for five years.
Everything in the hotel was custom designed, decorated and furnished by Boutell’s Furniture Co. A Miss Sandre from Boutell’s was interviewed with Mrs. Lindboe on Arle Haeberle’s “What’s New” program on WCCO-TV on March 28. Even the carpets were written up in Floor Covering Weekly Magazine. A restaurant review indicated that eight blazing torches adorned the front lawn, creating an exotic excitement.
Tim Bailey tells us that the “A” at the top of the Ambassador sign was supposed to spin, but never quite worked properly. Below is a later view of the sign and an early view of the lobby.
Before the hotel was even finished, a couple of newlyweds became the first guests when they couldn’t find an empty room in any other Minneapolis hotel. WTCN-TV reported that the hotel quickly finished the bridal suite for them so they could stay there on March 25.
The Distinguished Service Award and Bosses’ Night dinner, held by the Junior Chamber of Commerce, was presumably held on April 3; there is an article announcing the event in the Ambassador’s scrapbook. The speaker was Congressman Clark MacGregor.
Thursday, April 6, 1961: Husby flew in Iona Pinto, Miss India 1959, direct from Bombay. She arrived at the hotel by helicopter at 4:15 pm and was met by St. Louis Park Mayor Kenneth Wolfe and Miss St. Louis Park Gail Nelson. The dramatic arrival was featured on the newscasts of all three TV stations. Miss Pinto, age 19, was interviewed on several local TV shows in anticipation of the big opening.
Mayor and Mrs. Ken Wolfe greeting Miss India
Friday, April 7: Miss India appeared on the “Good Morning, Minnesota” show on WTCN-TV, “Treasure Chest” on KSTP-TV, and “The Roger Erickson Show” on WCCO-Radio. On “Treasure Chest” host Jim Hutton tried to greet her in her own language but it was the wrong dialect so she didn’t understand. At night she hosted a dinner for business leaders and local mayors at the hotel.
Saturday, April 8: Luncheon for 90 U of M students from India, Pakistan, and Kashmir and their professors, with lamb curry cooked by student Asad Hussain. Miss India was also a guest aboard a houseboat on Lake Minnetonka, hosted by Sheldon Brooks, and visited the Minnetonka Boat Fair.
Sunday, April 9: Miss India and Gil Swenberger appeared on the “Business and Finance Show” on WCCO-TV, with Swenberger narrating a film showing off the hotel. “Also included was a filmed interview with owner John Thompson who explained the history of the Ambassador.” An Open House for the community was attended by an estimated 21,000 people – reported to be the second largest crowd in St. Louis Park (the first being the PGA Tournament in 1959). Attending were an array of local royalty, some wearing saris for the occasion:
ˇ Miss Minneapolis
ˇ Miss Minnesota, Jean Elvrum from Faribault
ˇ Queen of the Lakes, Judy Mellem
ˇ Queen of the Snows, Mary Ann Schwab
ˇ Miss St. Louis Park, Gail Nelson
ˇ Princess Kay of the Milky Way, Marilyn Christianson
There were originally 85 guest rooms, decorated in four color combinations. The suites were decorated in Colonial, French Provincial, or Chinese motifs. The regular rooms were all Italian Provincial. The “fabulously exotic” rooms were advertised as having TV, radio, heat-air conditioning control, ceramic bath, direct-dial telephone, theater-type dressing rooms, double beds, lounge chairs and Muzak.
Here's the only photo we found of what is presumably an original guest room.
THE KASHMIRI LOUNGE
This high-class restaurant had an Indian-themed décor, with the waitresses wearing short, see-through outfits sewn by Oscar Husby’s daughter. The original chef was Wally Wiotte from the Hotel St. Paul, replaced in November 1961 by French-born M. Marcel Lagneau. The 92-seat restaurant apparently did not serve Indian food. There was a dance floor in the Kashmiri Room and a frequent performer was the Percy Hughes Trio.
The Kashmiri Room, where the table was elegant, the service outstanding, the food plentiful, and the goblets purple.
Entrance to the Kasmiri Room, @ 1989
THE CAMINO GRILL
The Camino (first Room, then Grill) Coffee Shop had a Mexican décor, although there is no indication that Mexican food was served there. An early menu features lobster tails and steak. (An early restaurant review said that the same menu was served at the Kashmiri Lounge and the Camino Room.) Décor included “golden plaques, representative of the figures of the Zodiac, tell[ing] the seasons of the year.” The carpet had gold medallions on a brown field, custom-made by Mohawk. The restaurant seated 105 and was open 24 hours. There was a diamond-shaped, glassed-in fireplace and panels of stained glass windows. Francis Hoover worked at the coffee shop for all 30 years, serving the regulars who worked along the Highway 12 and 100 corridors. Frequent customers were the employees at Westside VW and Sedgewick’s, and some famous visitors were Rod Carew, Bull Bullinski, and Andre the Giant.
THE SHALIMAR THIRSTBAR COCKTAIL LOUNGE
This elegant lounge featured a mural of a “parade of caparisoned [brightly colored] elephants, dancers and musicians. It had a round bar with a revolving pagoda in the middle depicting “maharajas majestically mounted on elephants, riding triumphantly through the streets followed by adoring subjects.
Photo found in the scrapbook of an early waitress outfit.
THE MANDALAY PIANO BAR
This room, with a capacity of 60, originally had plush paisley carpet made by Bigelow carpets with a pattern copied from a paisley shawl. It also had a paisley-shaped piano. “Suspended and revolving lanterns cast their kaleidoscopic shadows on floor and bar to simulate flying fishes darting playfully.” Singer Marilyn Sellars was a frequent performer at the Piano Bar. This room was eventually renamed Manders.
The “Hall of Kings” Convention Room originally seated 450 people, later expanded to hold 500.
Early names for the Banquet Rooms were:
ˇ Albert I
ˇ Boreas II
ˇ Charles III
ˇ Diplomat Rooms A & B
STAGES OF CONSTRUCTION
The hotel was built in stages. Original plans called for 200 guest rooms and six stories; 199 rooms were eventually built, but none of the buildings topped two stories.
The photo above isn't the best but it shows an early rendering of what the owners hoped it would become. There was a scale model made that was shown on several TV programs.
1. At first the hotel had an outdoor, cloverleaf-shaped heated pool, with a waterfall and a wading pool. Two stories of rooms were configured on two sides. There were originally 85 guest rooms. The lobby and dining rooms were in a separate building in front.
2. In February 1962 the other two sides were built, making the hotel into a square and increasing the number of rooms to 171. The meeting and banquet facilities were expanded to accommodate 500 people.
4. Finally, a second story was added to the front building, which contained the offices and restaurants and the lower-level conference center, bringing the total number of guest rooms to 199. Tony Hill: “There were a number of guest rooms up there which weren't as nice as those in the main building, and it was inconvenient to walk from there to the pool. (There was a fully enclosed skyway between the two buildings which must have been added later.) Two of the rooms in the front building had Murphy beds. We stayed in one of those rooms when I was but a wee tot, and my mother had to watch me closely to make sure I didn't cause trouble with the bed.“
In this 1968 photo the second story of the front building is evident. Is that the Honeywell plant in the back? Park National Bank in front.
The hotel was famous for its various amusements. In fact, a piece of stationery had a montage of bikini-clad beauties demonstrating various fun things to do, including:
ˇ Putting green
ˇ Ping pong
ˇ Heat lamps
The photos above of bathing beauties having fun ended up among several others that were actually on the back of the Ambassador's stationery!
Postcard image above courtesy Tony Hill
In February 1962, Charles Peterson, owner of Town Taxi, began a limo service to the airport, the first in the suburbs. Stops were the Ambassador, the Holiday in Golden Valley, and the Minikahda Inn at France and Excelsior Blvd. (later known as the Ambassador East). The company used two 9-passenger station wagons for his nine runs each day, charging $2 instead of the $5.50 cab rides usually cost. In addition, local residents could park at the Ambassador and use the service.
Photo courtesy Rick Peterson, whose father Charles owned Town Taxi.
The hotel was marketed as "Minnesota's Island in the Sun where we control the weather," and offered weekend packages.
In an article dated February 22, 1980, in the Minneapolis Star, Joanna Connors describes her experience on one of these getaway weekends at the Ambassador with her husband Chris. Her review starts, "This is my vision of hell." Several hilarious comments follow; some excerpts are:
In 1984 the hotel was purchased by David Otto, who “let it go to hell,” according to longtime waitress Fran Hoover.
In July 1989, Tony Bakhtiari and Hud Rassouli took over the food and liquor business.
By 1990 it was owned by a group called 5225 Partnership that had defaulted on the bank loan. Norwest Bank then became the owner.
The hotel checked out its last guest on March 25, 1991. The restaurant closed on March 30. Kahler blamed road construction and the two-year delay between the closing of the Minneapolis Auditorium and the opening of the Convention Center. He also blamed the media for routing traffic around the area. At closing the hotel had 55 employees and the food and liquor business had 70 full and part time employees.
The bank sold the tract to MEPC in 1991 and the hotel was demolished.
Chili’s and Olive Garden Restaurants were built on the site.
This information comes from a variety of sources: newspapers, books, yearbooks, phone directories, interviews, etc. Given the varied sources, we cannot guarantee that all of this information is correct, and welcome any additions and corrections. Please contact us with your contributions and comments.