Historic Alex Johnson celebrates 85 years - KOTA Territory News

Historic Alex Johnson celebrates 85 years


"We came in here off the bus and the first thing I saw was a big Alex Johnson hotel sign - imagine that," said Verne Sheppard, moved to Rapid City in 1950.

Sheppard came to Rapid to work for KOTA Radio, which used to sit on top the Alex Johnson hotel. "Right where we're sitting, they've added some stuff to the front there, but right where we're sitting was the radio control room surprisingly enough," said Sheppard during an interview in the Vertex Sky Bar. 

For Sheppard, the hotel holds a lot of memories being the first place he stayed in Rapid, as well as the first place he worked. "The hotel was the center of town. You got the Baken Park and as I said, it was a dance hall at the time. Around south of here was not built up like it is now, course the interstate was not here yet. It was just completely different, it was a small town," said Sheppard. 

The hotel, like the town, has gone through many changes throughout the years. Construction on the hotel began in 1927, under the dream of Mr. Alex Carlton Johnson. The hotel opened in 1928. "This was the showpiece of Rapid City. It was the first fireproof hotel in the Midwest and this was the place to be," said Wade Lampert, general manager. 

The goal of the hotel was and it to provide luxurious amenities to the guests of the Midwest. A grandiose hotel that Sheppard was in aw of more than 60 years go. "I came from a town of 3,000 people, 3,500, we had one hotel with three floors on it and I get in the elevator here and I think, 'my gosh when do we get there?" Sheppard laughed. 

Besides a towering height of 11 floors, the hotel had bellhops (which Sheppard says he didn't expect out here), and a Native American inspired lobby. "I was studying the floor earlier when I came in and I think it's all the same down there," said Sheppard. 

Besides the physical characteristics, the people who stayed at the hotel made the Alex Johnson memorable. "We had six different presidents stay here, you know many dignitaries, movie stars. This was the place to stay," said Lampert. 

Which Sheppard is familiar with. "Just about right here we had a big long table of some sort. Some of those people would come up here - the helpers and producers and directors and work at that table on some movie they were doing, going to do," said Sheppard. 

Now the Alex Johnson is celebrating 85 years of history. Keeping some of the past. "We still do 'bellhops' we have valets, we call them valets, that open the doors and help people with cars and their luggage," said Lampert. While accommodating for the future. "We want to upgrade it for the traveling public, you know give them the amenities that they want and need and keep the historical flair at the same time," said Lampert. 

And it's that historical flair that keeps the hotel Alex Johnson a nostalgic place. "You could walk in and recognize if you hadn't been there in 50 years," said Sheppard. 

The hotel is celebrating 85 years with a celebration November 8, 9, 10. The anniversary package includes entertainment and meals in the ballroom. 


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518 St. Joseph St.
Rapid City, SD 57701

Telephone: 605.342.2000
Fax: 605.342.7305

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