Penn-McKee Hotel

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, 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. 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. 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



[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]

  1. Lytle Jr., W.G. “Industrial M’Keesport Home of Two Largest Mills.” Pittsburgh Press, 24 Mar. 1927. p. 40.
  2. Smykla, Margaret. “Debate lives on in history.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8 Dec. 2011. p. EZ2.
  3. “Penn-McKee Hotel Discussed.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2 Feb. 2012, p. S5.
  4. Ackerman, Jan. “Penn McKee Hotel to be home for elderly.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 19 Feb. 1981. p. 3.
  5. “Developer may convert vacant McKeesport hotel.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10 Sept. 1987, p. S4.
  6. Ackerman, Jan. “Penn McKee Hotel sheriff’s sale urged.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 23 Apr. 1981. p. S4.
  7. Mason, Felicia L. “Old hotel fades into history.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2 May 1985, p. E2.
  8. “Penn McKee Hotel Closing, Official Cites Bad Publicity.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 Mar. 1980. p. 3.



Add Yours →

Was watching a campy short film entitled “A Visit to Santa” on TCM. Among the home movies spliced into this dreadful production were scenes of a circa-1960 Christmas parade marching down Fifth Avenue in McKeesport – in the background is the vertical sign on the front of the building. Quite nostalgic.

Leave your comment!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.