The Penn-McKee Hotel is a former hotel in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. It is best known as hosting a debate between two future presidents, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, in 1947.
The Penn-McKee Hotel was opened on September 1, 1926 at a cost of $600,000. 1 It contained 125 rooms upon completion, although there were talks of adding an additional two floors to the building by 1927 because its was chronically at full capacity.
The hotel boasted four retail storefronts, a large ballroom, two small ballrooms, dining room, kitchen and club room. 7 The basement was home to the Victory Lounge, a nightclub.
In April 1947, the Penn-McKee hosted a 90-minute debate on labor debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. 2 The freshmen congressmen took opposing position on the proposed Taft-Hartley Act. When the act did eventually become law, it curtailed much of the labor activism of the Roosevelt-era New Deal.
Decline and Closure
By the late 1960’s, the Penn-McKee became a residence hotel but had become downtrodden by the late 1970’s. 4 The Penn-McKee announced on March 5, 1980 that it was closing by May 1, citing bad publicity. 8 The owner blamed a recent television report that claimed the hotel was a major center for drugs and prostitution.
In February 1981, the Penn-McKee was sold to Winters Haven, a non-profit that managed residential facilities and programs for the elderly, for $100,000. 4 The company had hoped to turn the hotel into the Community Hotel, an emergency shelter on one floor, and short-term and long-term apartments on the other floors. 7
The rebranded building, Hotels Winter Haven, was the target of the local school district who wanted to see the property put up for a sheriff’s sale. 6 The Penn-McKee had been delinquent on $390,000 in federal, state, city, county and local taxes, with the debt accumulating since the 1970’s.
Outstanding bills and back taxes prevented Winter Haven from turning a profit. 7 On September 22, 1981, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It continued to operate until March 20, 1985 when it was filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Winters Haven closed on April 30, 1985. 7 At the time of its closing, it had 65 tenants. In September 1987, a developer expressed interest in renovating the vacant building to house retail shops and a personal care boarding home.
In October 2011, the hotel was designated for a historic marker by the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission after being nominated by the Battle of Homestead Foundation and the McKeesport Preservation Society. 3 The building was targeted for redevelopment by the McKeesport Redevelopment Authority until the group was blocked in 2011 by a lawsuit from the McKeesport Preservation Society.