Documentary to chronicle Windsor Hotel

4/5/2013

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

While the future of the Windsor Hotel in downtown Garden City remains uncertain, the Finney County Preservation Alliance wants to make sure the landmark's history is preserved.

Brian Nelson, a member of the FCPA, wants to be sure the current state of the hotel and its history are documented.

In order to do so, Nelson and the FCPA contracted Valarie Smith to create a film titled, "The Windsor Hotel, A Documentary." The documentary will be shown April 13 and 14 in Garden City.

Smith, a freelance videographer and photographer with Olive Earth Productions, along with Oscar Rivera, videographer, created the film.

Nelson has served on the FCPA for two years but has had a long interest in the hotel. The FCPA was created to preserve the history of Finney County through the preservation of historical, architectural and environmental heritage.

Nelson said his vision for joining the FCPA always has been to return the Windsor to its original use — a hotel.

But for now, his mission is information.

"I want to bring people here back to their roots and for them to know that they belong to something larger than what is here right now," he said.

Smith said her goal is to educate the public on the historical gem that sits vacant downtown.

"My goal with all the work I do is to inspire, enlighten and educate. This documentary does all that," she said.

Smith shot the film in November 2012 and has been editing for the past three months, with help from Rivera.

Nelson said it's important to document the Windsor in its current state before stabilization work begins on the building.

"There will be some demolition. We want to preserve what's there now. As it stands now is how I've always known it — beauty in an abandoned state," he said.

Nelson took his idea to the FCPA board of directors and then contracted Smith for the job.

Smith said the audio and visual depiction of the building, along with its history, makes it come alive.

"It shows why this place is important and what value it has to our community," Smith said.

Smith said viewers will learn a lot about the Windsor, such as its history and grandeur.

"It really puts the glitter on these things and makes it shine. I think people will discover what a treasure it is. They'll walk away with facts and experience, in an entertaining way," she said.

Smith said while community members share the history of downtown and the Windsor, viewers will laugh, cry and learn.

"It has the message that if we don't use these things, we lose them," she said.

Nelson said he hopes it helps viewers connect present Garden City with the founding fathers' vision of the city.

"I want them to see what it was like when it really was a 'dream on the plains,'" he said.

The Windsor Hotel was built in 1887 as a four-story, 55,000-square-foot building that had 125 hotel rooms, a large dining room and 200 square feet of business space.

According to the Kansas Sampler Foundation, the hotel stood for "opportunity and enterprise, for accommodation and dreams of wealth, a promise of a better future. Known as the 'Waldorf of the Prairies,' the hotel became headquarters for heads of wealthy cattle firms before the turn of the century."

In the documentary, the artists explore the historical value of the Windsor Hotel and look at efforts made by the FCPA, a nonprofit organization that has dedicated itself to preserving the cultural and structural integrity of the Windsor Hotel.¬ The film features Garden City residents Don Harness, Nelson, Gary Whitehurst, Ross Miller, Florence Wilson and Tony Harris.

The film will be shown at 4 p.m. April 13 at the Pauline Joyce Fine Arts Auditorium on the Garden City Community College campus. The film is about an hour long and is free to view. An artists' reception is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. at the Mercer Gallery on the GCCC campus. An exhibition called "The Windsor Hotel" features work from Smith, Nelson and Tabatha Berning.

The documentary also will be shown at 2:30 p.m. April 14 at the State Theatre on Main Street. Tours of the hotel are $5, and will be available after the showing.

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