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Forgotten treasures: Pawnee redeveloper shares hotel’s progress, discoveries after just month of renovation
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Forgotten treasures: Pawnee redeveloper shares hotel’s progress, discoveries after just month of renovation

A month into the long-awaited restoration of North Platte’s Hotel Pawnee, its owner says the 1929 Canteen District jewel is yielding many forgotten treasures.

Jay Mitchell recapped his crew’s discoveries as they launched upon a long list of repairs to the eight-story National Register of Historic Places structure.

While months of work lie ahead to restore the bottom two floors, “our months of planning and studying the history and architecture and layout of the Pawnee has paid off in the form of rapid progress that is ahead of schedule,” he said in a Wednesday email.

That has included finding and temporarily storing countless original items from inside the hotel, as well as uncovering many internal and external building features such as the outdoor neon sign over the 1941 Tom-Tom Coffee Shop.

Mitchell, a historic redeveloper from California, acquired a partial ownership interest in the wake of the Pawnee’s closure as a retirement hotel in 2013.

He became sole owner in October 2019, after the North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp. paid off the previous owners’ back taxes, untangled its debts and sold its acquired interest to Mitchell for a net $75,000.

Mitchell said he has had to spend part of the past month in California for treatment of a broken wrist suffered in an October motor vehicle collision in North Platte.

The rest of his crew has kept working, removing more than three Dumpsters’ worth of first-floor trash and beginning restoration of the Tom-Tom, the 1936 White Horse Bar and the Pawnee’s other seven ground-floor business spaces.

Mitchell has said he hopes to revive both the Tom-Tom and White Horse as he secures new business tenants and restores the first and second floors as public areas. Gradual restoration of the top six floors would follow.

Most of the Pawnee’s roof leaks have been fixed, the remains of a rooftop cellphone tower have been removed, and the basement and boiler room have been drained of water and repaired to prevent future flooding, he said.

Replacement storefront glass for broken panes has been ordered, plans for fire-sprinkler upgrades have been drawn up, and temporary electric service has been obtained to continue the work.

His workers also have “evicted all pigeons,” Mitchell said.

On the aesthetic side, the first-floor storefronts are being painted and more than 40 exterior transom windows have been uncovered above the Pawnee’s east-side storefronts.

While pulling out wall coverings installed years after the Pawnee’s October 1929 dedication, Mitchell said, his crews have “uncovered numerous graphics and artworks that were hidden for decades.”

They’ve also “assembled an amazing amount of original items” that will be stored and restored as needed while structural work continues, he said.

They include the Tom-Tom’s and White Horse’s original chairs and tables, much of the original lobby and mezzanine furnishings and the six brass chandeliers that had fallen and were buried in rubble in the second-floor Crystal Ballroom.

Finding items like those have been the most personally exciting for Mitchell, who said he’s been able to verify their authenticity through photos from the hotel’s glory days.

“It’s extremely rare to have so many furnishing remaining with a building like this after 91 years,” he said. “It will make our final product a truly unique restoration.”

Other original furniture and Pawnee memorabilia will be returning to North Platte from the California home of Lynn (Robertson) Evert, one of the eight grandchildren of former Gov. Keith Neville.

Neville, Nebraska’s World War I governor from 1917 to 1919, built the Pawnee and the neighboring 1929 Fox Theatre and 1931 Paramount Theatre buildings at East Fifth Street and Bailey Avenue (then Pine Street).

Evert, who lives in Davis, California, inherited the items she’s donating from her late parents and Pawnee managers Don and Virginia (Neville) Robertson.

“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to live here” in her home, she said of her donation.

Now 80, Evert grew up in a fourth-floor suite on the Pawnee’s southeast side. The family sold the hotel in September 1973.

“A couple of years ago, I was home for a class reunion and cried when I saw the hotel” in its rundown condition, she said. “I’m so excited that something’s going to happen.”

Mitchell came to visit Evert in Davis last week and has been in contact with Neville’s other grandchildren. He joined a recent Zoom call involving them all, Mitchell and Evert said.

Since Virginia Robertson died in 2008, Evert has had a two-tiered glass coffee table from her family’s suite, an octagonal lobby table and two chairs and a console table from the Pawnee mezzanine.

She also had a carved wooden covered wagon, complete with oxen and a yoke, that used to adorn a Tom-Tom counter built in a half-U shape.

The wagon’s coming back to the Pawnee, too, Evert said.

“It wasn’t in really good shape,” she told Mitchell, “but he said, ‘I can fix those things.’”

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