Drury Lodge guests, patrons reminisce as demolition begins
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - It's the end of an era: Demolition of the Drury Lodge began this week.
Workers have cleaned out the building. They have removed furniture and anything else that can continue to be used.
The hotel was built as a Ramada Inn in 1969 and became the Drury Lodge in 1985. The two-story hotel had 140 guest rooms. It housed banquet halls, meeting rooms and, for a time, the Cedar Street Restaurant.
The demolition of the building will make room for an eight-story conference center and hotel. The hotel will have 160 rooms and an adjoining restaurant. The new construction will cover more than 20,000 square feet -- twice as much area as the old Drury Lodge.
But the legacy of the Lodge lives on in the memories of those that frequented it. Birthdays, wedding receptions, proms, class reunions and family reunions took place in the reception halls. Hotel rooms became temporary homes.
The Cedar Street Restaurant, which closed in 2010, was a popular place for bands to play, friends to gather and clubs to meet.
"Every day of the week, we would have different groups," Sara Heuer, Drury Hotels regional manager said. The Optimists and the Jaycees were among the organizations that met in Cedar Street.
"Our bridge ladies came in when we did buffets," she said.
Heuer, who oversees more than a dozen hotels in the region, got her start at the front desk of the Drury Lodge. Others also joined the staff of the Lodge and stayed for many years.
Joan Chilton spent 19 years at the front desk.
"Joan was on the evening shift," Justin Medley, general manager of the Drury Lodge, said. "She would check everyone in with a 'Welcome home!' She got to know them and their kids."
Martha Wills, who spent 26 years at the front desk, saw regulars come through year after year.
"We would have people who would travel through but twice a year on their way to Florida or something," Wills said. "This year they were looking around and saying, 'I can't believe you're taking the Lodge down. Where are we going to go next year?'"
"It's my regulars that I'm going to miss most," Wills said.
Earline Lowes was sales coordinator for 26 years and oversaw bookings of the popular banquet halls.
"We had banquets all the time and weddings every weekend," Lowes said.
Dozens of people took to Facebook to share their memories and photographs of the Lodge.
"The stairs in the lobby were a perfect place for my huge family to gather for a photo!" Rachael Essner Daume posted.
"That's a famous staircase," Heuer said. "There were a lot of pictures taken on those stairs."
"We used to go there for Sunday brunch and watch the iguana in the tank," Cathy Ulrich posted. Indeed, there was a time when Cedar Street served Tex-Mex fare, and the restaurant featured an iguana tank.
"His name was Guacamole," Chilton said. "We had him for eight years."
Tommie Cook Elkins remembered her time working for the Lodge.
"I have lots of memories!" she recalled. "[I] was given a car for a tip from a customer, met Red Skelton and had my picture taken with him, met Randy Travis, and also several Cardinal players while working [t]here."
The Drury Lodge has seen its share of celebrities come through its doors.
"In 1990, all you had was the Holiday Inn and us. Pete Poe (former general manager of the Drury Lodge) was very involved with the fair, so we a lot of celebrities stay with us," Heuer said.
More recently, the cast and crew of the movie "Gone Girl" spent a week filming there.
Most of the memories shared by those who patronized the lodge were wedding memories.
"We had one amazing wedding reception at the Lodge," Daume said.
"My husband and I spent our wedding night here. Our daughter had her wedding shower here. Sad to see it go," Donna Glueck wrote via Facebook.
"We had the most beautiful reception ever there. It was the best night of our life to date! We were so grateful to squeeze it in before the hotel was gone," Danielle Taylor posted.
"Everybody's been to the Drury Lodge," Medley said.
The new conference center and hotel is expected to be open in 18 to 24 months. In October, it will begin taking reservations.
"We hope all our past guests will come back with us when we're up and new," Lowes said.