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, with 125 guest rooms, opened on September 1, 1926, at the cost of $600,000. 1 Inside were 125 guest rooms, four retail storefronts, three ballrooms, a dining room, and a club room. 7 The basement was home to the Victory Lounge, a nightclub. There were talks at expansion in 1927 because the hotel was at full capacity most nights.
The hotel hosted a 90-minute debate on labor debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in April 1947. 2 The freshmen congressmen took an opposing position on the proposed Taft-Hartley Act.
Decline and Closure
By the late 1960s, the Penn-McKee had become a residence hotel, 4 and in March 1980, after a television report claimed that the hotel had become the center for drugs and prostitution for the city, it was announced that the Penn-McKee would close by May 1. 8
The shuttered hotel was sold for $100,000 to Winters Haven, a non-profit that managed residential facilities and programs for the elderly, in February 1981. 4 The company had hoped to turn the hotel into the Community Hotel, a combination emergency homeless shelter, and apartment complex. 7 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 but continued to operate until March 20, 1985, when it was filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Winters Haven closed on April 30; at the time, it had 65 residents. 7
In September 1987, a developer expressed interest in renovating the vacant building to house retail shops and a personal care boarding home. 7 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. 3