Ed. note: This is the first installment of ARRIVE’s ongoing series penned by Professor R.J. Historyman, staff historian of ARRIVE Hotels & Restaurants. Professor Historyman has spent a lifetime studying the art and science of lodging, and has traveled the globe unearthing the most fascinating - and often quite unbelievable - tales from the hospitality industry. In this “From the desk of R.J. Historyman” series, the good professor provides us a few anecdotes culled from his extensive archives on the storied history of ARRIVE Hotels & Restaurants. We hope you enjoy.
While rifling through my archives this week in search of some exculpatory material related to a rather unpleasant tax audit from the authorities of St. Kitts, I stumbled across a dusty reel of film from the motion picture “Kong, The Donkey” and was reminded of the truly unbelievable history of the ARRIVE East Austin hotel. The story below is excerpted from my three volume series on the matter, which can be purchased in full from all reputable booksellers.
In 1910, Preston Kong set out to build the first hotel in Austin east of East Avenue. The project was plagued with numerous roadblocks as the city struggled in the aftermath of the Austin Dam catastrophe. Ten years in, with only a framed structure to show for his efforts, Kong had spiraled into alcoholism with an emerging temper that became infamous in the community. He cemented for himself the nickname “The Donkey” when, during a heated argument with the project's contractor, he furiously kicked one of the main support pillars, causing the frame to shift and several floor plates to become permanently slanted. The contractor stormed off and Kong’s project ground to a halt.
The project sat vacant for some time, a sad monument to corrupted integrity (both structural and spiritual).
Shortly after the onset of Prohibition a decade later, the abandoned structure drew the attention of Austin’s first large-scale bootlegging outfit formed by Mitchell Shiner, who quietly set up operations on the top floor. With the depressed Kong steadfastly avoiding his doomed project site, Shiner was able to run hooch undetected for nearly two years.
All was going well for Shiner. But, like all good things (including tax shelters in St. Kitts), there must come an end.
When Kong finally discovered the bootlegger’s operation, Kong flew into a rage, kidnapped Shiner’s wife and fortified himself with his hostage on the building’s top floor. According to witnesses, Shiner attempted a dramatic rescue, scrambling up the slanted floors of the structure and climbing the tattered remains of the building’s scaffolding to get to his wife. Kong attempted to thwart Shiner’s advances by rolling and tossing empty bourbon barrels at the aggrieved husband. Shiner was able to smash and dodge the barrels to reach his wife, but Kong scrambled off the structure and got away, never to be heard from again. Some say he spent his remaining days driving in an illicit island go-kart ring.
The whole affair might have been lost to history, were it not for “new media” and an unlikely series of events.
Kong's antics were dramatized in 1935 one of the first talkies ever produced in Texas, "Kong, the Donkey." The film never attained critical acclaim. However, in the 1970s, the movie became an odd obsession of a Japanese film student who would soon join the new arcade game unit of Nintendo Co LTD and would immortalize Kong's antics for all time.
With Kong’s disappearance, the hotel project sat abandoned for a half century. But Kong’s vision came full circle in 2015 when the abandoned hotel project was jump-started once again, becoming what is now ARRIVE East Austin.
For more on this unbelievable story, please pick up my three volume series. Available from all REPUTABLE booksellers.
Yours in History,
Profession R.J. Historyman