The Alex Johnson Hotel is the tallest building in downtown Rapid City. Its construction coincided with the initial work on Mount Rushmore, which became a major tourist attraction for the region. The hotel opened in summer 1928, marking the end of a downtown building boom. It was built by Chicago and Northwestern Railroad vice president Alex Carlton Johnson, who hired Chicago architect Edward G. Oldefest to design the Tudor Revival hotel. The pressed brick walls are trimmed with terra-cotta and the upper floors are stucco with half-timbering, which is only featured on the Sixth and St. Joseph elevations, likely in anticipation of adjacent development that never occurred due to the Great Depression.
The interior was designed with reference to local geology and culture. The grand lobby features a large fireplace made mostly of Precambrian quartzite stones found along nearby Rapid Creek; the mantel is decorated with brands of area ranches, and bison heads adorn the walls. Chicago artist Carlos de Lopez incorporated American Indian motifs into the wood-beamed ceiling and brick floor. The chandelier, made of Sioux war spears, measures nearly eight feet across.
The hotel has hosted six U.S. presidents and was featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest (1959). There have long been rumors of hauntings throughout the hotel, including the ghost of Alex Johnson himself, who died in 1938. With the addition of private baths during a 1940s renovation, the original 206 rooms were reduced to 143. In 2017, the hotel completed the first major renovation since the 1970s. During this project, all guest rooms were fully stripped and rebuilt. The luxury hotel now offers a rooftop patio and restaurant, located in the former penthouse, as well as an Irish pub and a coffee shop. It also offers banquet rooms for meetings and special events. The hotel has been a member of National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America since 2011, and is now also part of the Curio Collection by Hilton.
Erpestad, David, and David Wood. Building South Dakota. Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 1997.