Author Archive

For Lovers Only–Abandoned Penn Hills Pocono Resort

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Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH  

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

Welcome to JizzneyLand!  Celebrated as the “Paradise of Pocono Pleasure” and “a place of unbridled passion”, the honeymoon resort known as Penn Hills catered to Swinging Young Couples.  With tacky, lust inspired décor like round beds, heart-shaped whirlpool bathtubs, gaudy floor-to-ceiling shag carpeting, and mirrors on the ceiling, the Hotel California had nothing on this place!

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS 

If these walls could talk they’d tell stories of love, infidelity, lust, corruption and Mob connections! As soon as I started posting pictures from this location on social media, I had several women reach out to tell me tales of visiting here with suave Italian “business men”, who owned fancy cars, printing shops, drop ship businesses, video distribution companies, and other undefinable “business interests”.  Of course, no one wanted to be interviewed in detail “on the record”, but Billy D’Elia is the name that came up, in association with these men, several times as the three different women shared their stories with me.

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

While this location started as a tavern in 1944, the 500 acre resort grew to include skiing, golf, swimming, archery, ice skating, snowmobiling, tennis, an indoor game room, a massive dining hall, and a night/comedy club.  The property also contained one cool historical feature–modernist streetlights from the 1964 World’s Fair.

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1964 World’s Fair Street Light at Penn Hills

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia 

During its prime in the 1960s and 1970s, Penn Hills was so popular that reservations often had to be made months in advance.  Anyone living in the Tri-State Area during the 1970s will remember the TV commercials with the slogan: “Penn Hills for lovers only.  You’re never lonely at Penn Hills….. Just 90 minutes from New York City!”

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

Located in Analomink, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, the resort began its decline in the late 1980s, along with many of the resorts and hotels in that same region.  Some blame the rising affordability of air travel at that time, coupled with the inexpensive packages available at all-inclusive resorts at destinations in countries like Mexico.  Others say the resorts in the Poconos were built up in anticipation of legalized casino gambling in the state of Pennsylvania, which didn’t materialize as quickly as developers assumed it would.

Wedding Bell Shaped Pool

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Photo Courtesy of  Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

For whatever reason, lovers visiting Penn Hills in the new millennium found the accommodations horrifying during the last few years that it was open.   Consumer reviews from online travel sites definitely articulate how much the resort and its services deteriorated since its hey-days as a honeymoon destination spot.  Consumers described a resort that was deserted and scary.   They depict rooms that smelled moldy, contained outdated furniture, chipped paint and non-operational whirlpool tubs.  Accommodations were full of bugs, stains, and littered with graffiti containing slogans such as “We got screwed at Penn Hills”.  They also claimed that the drinks at the bar were watered down, the food was barely edible and the property was literally falling apart.   Reviews say that the wood on the buildings was rotting, the pool was peeling, the tennis courts had potholes, archery targets were no longer standing upright, and most of the buildings looked abandoned.

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Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH Kat Penn Hills_DSC5735 copy Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

When Penn Hills co-founder, Frances Paolillo died in 2009 at the age of 102, the resort closed less than two months later. According to multiple internet sources, the workers’ final paychecks were never issued.  The Monroe County Tax Claim Bureau reported that Penn Hills owed about $1.1 million in back taxes and was on a payment plan since 2006 to defray that debt. Portions of the property were sold at tax sale. In June of 2013, the remaining parcel was purchased for $25,000 at a repository sale by Penn Resort Investment, LLC, based in Jim Thorpe.  According to newspaper reports, Stroud Township officials have been trying to get the new owners to secure the property.

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

Since declining into a state of abandonment, the resort, which was already in serious disrepair, has fallen victim to copper thieves, flooding, vandalism, and recent fires.  According to newspaper reports from December 2014, there have been a total of 98 instances requiring a police response at the resort since its closure, because of suspicious circumstances, burglary, and theft.  Stroud Township says if the current owners don’t cooperate, the township could eventually demolish the old resort and put a lien on the property.

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

That Kid Rich Penn Hills

Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH 

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

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Photo Courtsey of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

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Some of My Own Photos From That Location:

The Laugh with Abandonment Comedy Club

Laugh With Abandonment Comedy Club
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The Abandoned Gift Shop

Gift ShopPenn Hills Gift Shop

The Abandoned Skating Rink

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Skating

Guest Rooms (some don’t seem totally “abandoned”)

Guest Room 1
Guest Room 2

Guest Room 3

Abandoned Indoor Pool (no, that’s not ice)

Indoor Pool

Abandoned Indoor Poolside Bar

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Cheri Sundra © 2015
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Find my photos on Flickr!

Ghost Estates: The Sanctuary

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If you try really hard, you can almost feel the positiveness of the developers when they named this sacred future hamlet, located in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania.  The land was purchased for development from Bishop James C. Timlin and named The Sanctuary. But the hulking abandoned shell of what was going to become a townhouse, which is the predominant view in your line of sight when entering this wanna-be housing development, tells a completely different story.  This place is like a blank page at the end of the last chapter of a book.  The street signs and hydrants may have been erected, but this mostly abandoned development is nothing but an attempted mirage of suburbia.  It’s the American Dream gone wrong.

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While cruising the desolate and primarily house-free streets, admiring the asphalt roads and empty lots, you realize that this Ghost Development is not entirely dead.  One house in the back is obviously occupied, and from another in the front, a dog could be heard yipping away from inside one of the cookie-cutter townhouses.

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Yet there are also partially landscaped yards in the process if reverting into scrappy, weed infested spaces, in front of dwellings left half-finished, abandoned and deteriorating.

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According to past newspaper reports, The Sanctuary has transformed into one couple’s suburban hell.  In an interview from 2009 with the only homeowners living in The Sanctuary at that time, they disclosed that water tainted by a dangerous industry solvent flows beneath their dream house with the cozy fireplace, expensive hardwood floors and spacious kitchen.   The homeowners voiced concern about being left with a $400,000 mortgage on a home that was worth considerably less in a stalled housing development.  To contribute to their problem, the housing development is linked to figures in one of the biggest scandals ever to rock Luzerne County.

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Sanctuary was conceived and developed by W-Cat Inc.   Federal prosecutors are very familiar with some of the names associated with that development company.  Three of them, former Luzerne County judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and attorney Robert J. Powell, were key figures in what has become known as Kids for Cash, a judicial corruption scandal.

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Cheri Sundra © 2014
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The Dead Diva of Hollenback Cemetery: The Notorious Florence Foster Jenkins

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If someone was going to play you in a movie about your life,

who would you want it to be?

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Meryl Streep (along with Hugh Grant) recently signed up to appear as one of Wilkes-Barre’s former residents, now eternally residing in the Hollenback Cemetery, Florence Foster Jenkins, who became infamous for her artistic incompetence since she was an Opera Diva who could not sing.  The concept isn’t that hard to grasp today, in the age of talentless nobodies who become amazingly famous–Florence Foster Jenkins is the undisputed Patron Saint of that genre!

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Known, and sometimes ridiculed, for her lack of rhythm, pitch and tone; in addition to her generally poor singing ability, legions of people came to see Florence perform, thanks to her highly eccentric behavior.  It is rumored that she would often order massive bouquets of flowers to be delivered to her concerts, and then genuinely forget that she‘d done so, thinking they were from her throngs of admirers.  She wore ridiculous costumes, in Lady Gaga-esque fashion, that she made herself, often featuring wings and tinsel.  Ms. Jenkins once pulled an “Axl Rose” by hurling a basket at the audience. And after an accident, she rewarded a taxi driver for injuring her because she was convinced that she could “sing” a higher F than ever before (after the incident).  When faced with ridicule and criticism, Ms. Jenkins had the amazing ability to rebrand herself as a victim of “professional jealousy”.

The only way to obtain a ticket to one of Ms. Jenkins’ performances was to purchase one directly from the Diva herself!  She certainly understood the “leave them wanting more” theory since she refused to appear in New York more than once a year, often restricting attendance to her annual recital to a select few loyal admirers.

According to Carnegie Hall, it is Ms. Jenkins who has the honor of being the performer of their most requested archival concert program.

Seeing Ms. Jenkins, who was independently wealthy, perform at small venues like fashionable hotel ballrooms became “the thing to do”.  Everyone wanted to listen to her screw up every song she tried to sing.  Her concert-goers always had such a great time that they convinced her that she needed to make her Carnegie Hall debut, which she did on October 25, 1944.  The performance sold out in just two hours!  And the audience would not let her go home.  And like the Diva she was, she died one month and one day after that performance.  Forever leaving her fans wanting more. IMG_1879 (2) sig

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Cheri Sundra © 2014
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Hotel Sterling Demolition: One Year Later

NOTE:

To mark the one year anniversary of the demolition of the Hotel Sterling, Welcome to the Zombie Hotel Sterling will be available as a FREE digital download on Amazon from July 25th thru July 29th.  Get ’em while you can!  If you don’t have a Kindle, the  app  is free too.

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Once upon a time, the city known as Wilkes-Barre enjoyed days of prosperity, primarily because of the growth of the anthracite industry in neighboring towns.   This hub of transportation and business activity  created a need within itself  to build a new hotel, during the golden era of the Grand Luxury Hotel.

When newspaper headlines said “Construction Work on Sterling Will Begin This Month”, a survey by “recognized authorities” concluded that the original plan for a strictly commercial hotel would not sufficiently meet the needs of the community.   It was “decided advisable to provide for a first class modern building in every way”.  The construction cost was estimated at $225,000.

In 1897, the Wilkes-Barre Times ran these GROUND PLANS for the hotel:

 Sterling Plans

That edition of the paper was so popular, due to the community buzz about the construction of the hotel, that the paper had to reprint the edition “by the request of those who wish, but cannot get copies to send to friends and relatives in other cities”.

Alongside the plans were some of the names suggested for the hotel by readers of the paper.  The suggestions included The Susquehanna, Hotel Hollenback, Hotel Anthracite, The Anthracite, Rivera Hotel Sterling, Hotel Susquehanna, The New Century, The Keystone, Hotel Ganoga, Riverside, Hotel de Sterling, Hotel Farragut, The Phoenix, The Gertrude, The Waldegrave and The Parish.

The Hotel opened in 1898, and the good times began!

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Hotel Sterling Crystal Ballroom during an event

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Hotel Sterling, Crystal Ballroom 2012

Sadly, a little over a hundred years later, the Hotel Sterling found itself in a community struggling to find a practical use for its aging and now out-dated structure full of history and sentiment.  Wilkes-Barre is a community struggling to reclaim a sustainable economy and way of life,  and memories aren’t enough to fund historical preservation projects.  Demolition began on the Hotel Sterling on July 25, 2013.

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How did the Hotel Sterling morph from a much anticipated Grand Luxury Hotel into a hopeless abandonment?  Hear the tale as told by the Hotel Sterling in:

WELCOME TO THE ZOMBIE HOTEL STERLING

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July 25th Thru July 29th on Amazon.com

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Cheri Sundra © 2014

All Rights Reserved

Abandoned Firework Factory: They Always Go Out With A Bang (Part 1)

Happy 4th of July

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Plugging the terms “Scranton & Black Powder Plant & Explosion” into a search engine can yield some horrific results. (WARNING to the faint of heart: Just stop reading here and wait for the less graphic follow-up post that will be available soon)

Apparently during the late 1800s and early 1900s, newspaper editors felt no need to shield the public at large from the graphic details of violent, industrial-related death.

Headlines like “Victims Blown To Pieces” and “One Man’s Heart is Found On The Roof Of Another Building” will leave even the most disgruntled office worker feeling slightly relieved that they get to earn their living shackled within the bland walls of their veal-pen-like cubical, away from material that is likely to blow them to smithereens at any given moment. It’s highly doubtful that you will ever be blown 150 feet in the air while responding to even the most explosive email, or that you will be violently repelled 200 feet away from your work station while employed as a corporate paper pusher.

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These historic newspaper accounts about black powder plant explosions tell the tale of those who report to work only to end up “horribly mangled” and “charred”.

One exceptionally gory account, published in 1892, about a black powder plant explosion in Moosic, Pennsylvania, describes a scene with bodies scattered in all directions, and a man who was hurled four hundred yards with his hands and his legs burned off. The majority of the victims were granted the “blessing of instant death”.   Emergency responders spent hours searching for the limbless trunk of one victim who was “hurled fully 400 yards away” when 50 kegs of powder exploded at the plant.

One survivor gave the following account of his experience to reporters:

“I was at work at the press with THERON COOLBAUGH. We heard the report from the glazing mill and we ran out. Then the Corning Mill blew up. We dashed wildly into the woods, expecting that the press would go next. There we saw GEORGE ELLIS all on fire. He was running around, and when he saw me he shouted: ‘DAVE, pull off my clothes. Oh, hurry and help me.’ I ran up to him, and in an instant my clothes were ablaze, too. They were my powder clothes. Whether they caught fire by my placing my hands on ELLLIS, or whether the burning grass did it. I cannot tell. I tried to tear my clothes off and fought the fire as hard as I could. Then WILLIAM WEIR, who was washing in the wash shanty, came running out with two coats that had been soaking in the trough. He said: ‘Lie down quick, DAVE.’ I did so, and he threw the wet coats over me. This put the fire out and I was saved except as to my feet. My work in the press was to shovel powder, and my shoes for that reason easy to be set afire. The flames were worst about them, and that is the rason (sic) my toes are so badly burned. WEIR and COOLBAUGH also succeeded in helping ELLIS, but he was badly burned.”

He went on to describe one of his co-workers: “arms had been burned off to the elbow and his face greatly disfigured. His appearance was still more terrible on account of the fact that the culm into which he had fallen made him still more blacker than the devastating powder had originally made him. His body was nearly burned in two at abdomen.”

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Most reports about black powder plant explosions during that era end by saying something such as “whatever of the remains of the victims could be found were gathered together and placed in rough wooden boxes”. And then the  final word goes to the monetary loss that will be experienced by the owner of the plant. In the case of the plant in Moosic, it was expected to be $10,000. No mention is made about the loss that was going to be experienced by the families and loved ones of the deceased workers.

Please have a SAFE and happy holiday weekend!~~Cheri

P.S.  Be sure to check back soon for Part 2!

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Cheri Sundra © 2014
All Rights Reserved

A Resurrection Reversed: The Playboy Bunnies & The Death(s) of the Wilkes-Barre Train Station (Part 2)

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Photo courtesy of George Foster

(If resurrection is the concept of coming back to life after death, how do you measure the success, or failure, of one?)

Wilkes-Barre Train Station 2014

Wilkes-Barre Train Station 2014

Some townspeople, in a “has-seen-better-days” place named Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, are looking for someone to save their tragic little train station……again. This is unquestionably a noble goal. But any potential philanthropists, preservationists and “do-gooders-in-general” should be forewarned that this is a community with a history of its own—a history that includes squandering the gift of historic resurrection.

Allow me to photographically illustrate a story that will break your heart. It is a tale about a man with a dream, who invested millions of dollars, in a labor of love, to give the gift of history and heritage back to his hometown.

I’m talking about an old-school, self-made, “no-government-grant-money-needed”, community philanthropist with a vision for the future, who spent his own cash to restore a vacant and quickly deteriorating historical landmark.

What did that community do with the living piece of history that he so lovingly and generously invested in for them to enjoy for years to come?

In an act of betrayal, the town just complacently watched, as the property reverted back into a state of abandonment and ruin once again, very shortly after their benefactor entrusted the train station’s care to other community members. This is a frightening tale about what can happen to history when commercial non-profitability and loss of accountability in local government collide.

Let’s begin our story right here:

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Once upon a time, many years ago…..in 1974, to be exact…..there was a historic little train station who had seen much better days. After playing a major role in the prosperous years of the fair city that it calls home (See Part 1), this particular train station was viewed as an abandoned building merely existing in a state of ruin, and standing in the way of “progress”. It was nothing but a hopeless abandonment, plagued by vandals, and slated for demolition. The Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority planned to remove the structure, since it was in the direct path of an extension planned to make way for a downtown automobile traffic distributor—whatever that is! But the community stepped up and got involved in trying to rally support for this endangered landmark.

First, there was a Senator named Hugh Scott who urged local communities in Pennsylvania to try to save old rail depots throughout the state so they could serve as museums or something useful.

Then people began writing letters and articles urging the community to save Wilkes-Barre’s little monument to the halcyon days of passenger train service, which usually began with statements such as:

“No longer the trim, ornate passenger station it once was back in the hey-day of rail travel in Wyoming Valley, the Central Railroad depot now is a run-down, dilapidated structure; its boarded-up lower floors, broken windows and mouldering (sic) cupola stand as mute evidence of Wilkes-Barre’s historic past.”

While that newspaper blurb sounds eerily like it could be pulled from 2014, it actually ran in the September 28, 1974 issue of the Wilkes-Barre newspaper! Forty years ago, this community was looking at the SAME train station, in the SAME condition that it sits today, wondering what to do with this magnificent piece of history that sat in ruins. What has transpired in Wilkes-Barre over those four decades is a tale of hope, transformation, and then a decline that should make the business leaders and elected officials in that community hang their heads in shame.

Wilkes-Barre Train Station 2014

Wilkes-Barre Train Station 2014

In 1974, their local newspaper was saying things like:

“Time is running out for the old Central Railroad of New Jersey passenger station, whose 106 years of history cover the major span of the once great railroad industry, second only to anthracite mining as the greatest employer in Wyoming Valley. Now, vacant and deteriorating rapidly since the shutdown of all CNJ service in Wilkes-Barre on March 31, 1972, the historic building awaits its fate. “

What happened next was nothing short of miraculous in the world of historical preservation! It was almost inconceivable that anyone would really be interested in salvaging such a deteriorating structure, especially since its small size mitigated against any otherwise major redevelopment that could grace the seven acre tract of land that it sits upon.

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Photo courtesy of George Foster

But against all odds, amazing things happened! The Greater Wilkes-Barre Jaycees took on the responsibility to get the ball rolling. They organized a “Save Our Station” committee and embarked on a quest to secure “historical landmark” status for the structure. They didn’t have the resources or knowledge required to do the restoration job themselves, but they were successful in having that little train station placed on the National Register of Historic Properties and the Pennsylvania Register of Historic Sites and Landmarks. Now all that the story needed was a hero to save the day! And that’s when a man named Marvin Roth came to the rescue.

Marvin Roth & His Restored Train Station

Marvin Roth & His Restored Train Station

Mr. Roth was a novelty and toy wholesaler who grew up a block from the train station, watching the trains come and go. He decided to re-create the hustle and bustle of the busy rail terminal, without involving actual train travel and the end result was a unique motel, restaurant and bar experience.

“I didn’t want the railroad to disappear entirely from Wilkes-Barre, and this is my way of keeping it alive,” he said in a 1987 Los Angeles Times interview about his project to convert the abandoned station into a useful parcel of real estate once again, as a gift to his economically struggling hometown.

Before Mr. Roth stepped up, the elegant brick station had been last used by the Central Railroad of New Jersey, successor to the old Lehigh, Lackawanna, Delaware & Hudson, and Pennsylvania railroads that served the area into the early 1960s after Wilkes-Barre’s coal mines, flooded by the Susquehanna River, stopped operating.

Passenger rail service, which started there in 1843, ended July 1, 1963. Next the station was subjected to the ravages of time and weather, in addition to the day-to-day destruction inflicted by vandals who shattered glass, destroyed moldings, and pilfered valuable and difficult–to-replace originals. The structure was so devastated in the 1972 flood caused by tropical storm Agnes that the local Redevelopment Authority planned to raze it.

Marvin Roth purchased the train station in late 1977 and embarked upon the kind of successful redevelopment project that everyone hopes to achieve as an end result. He filled the tracks with dining, parlor and sleeping cars, cabooses and freights, using them as a means to add extra commercial space to the tiny train station. Finding the old railroad cars was easy, but getting them into Wilkes-Barre, where track had been torn up, proved to be quite difficult.

Roth Restored Railroad Car

Marvin Roth Restored Railroad Car

Railroad Car Post-Roth- Restoration

Railroad Car Post-Roth- Restoration

“We had to lay track from the site to some freight lines still operating,” Mr. Roth told the LA Times. “That’s how we were able to move a private coach once used by Henry Flagler, the owner of the old Florida East Coast Railway and a partner of John D. Rockefeller.”

In local newspaper interviews, Marvin Roth was hailed for his “restless search for historically significant artifacts” to place throughout the complex, which included the acquisition of an enormous hand carved sideboard from the Vanderbilt home to be used as the focal point of the lobby. And there was detailed work underway on the train station’s second floor where a cabinet maker from Israel—Nissim Rabbe—labored for months in a room named the “Library Room” , creating walls made out of fine, hand carved walnut.

Marvin Roth Library Room

Marvin Roth Library Room

Library Room Post-Roth- Restoration

Library Room Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

The adjacent room, named the “Billiard Room” because of its large billiard table, was another dining area decorated with stately oak. Newspaper articles went to great lengths to describe how “little expense was spared in selecting appointments, furnishings and decorations to be consistent with the Victorian era in this non-rolling railroad complex.”

The Once Grand Room.

“Billiard Room” Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

In an interview about his restoration project for the Revel R.R. Resister, Roth “dwelled on his commitment to authenticity in the restoration—even to the tin and copper roof being replaced with all copper.”

In 1979, the local paper declared:

“Perhaps the grandest part of the station is the cupola; Roth said before restoration, the cupola had no access. “When we got up here for the first time we found that the only others ever up here were the pigeons”, mused Roth. From the cupola, one is afforded a grand view of the city.”

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The View–Photo courtesy of George Foster

Mr. Roth continued, “Also, when standing at the top of the grand structure, the new clean slate and copper roofing on the station is eye-catching. “–Citizens’ Voice, April 27, 1979

Sign For Potential Copper Thieves, Post-Roth- Restoration

Sign For Potential Copper Thieves, Post-Roth- Restoration

(Note to readers: Early in 2013, thieves successfully removed the copper roofing material.)

Roth described the cupola as “pure gingerbread” because it served no purpose, but anyone entering it would be unlikely to forget it because it was completely lined with cedar wood.

Cedar Lined Cupola

Cedar Lined Cupola

Marvin Roth did considerable research to find out what he needed to restore the former New Jersey Central Railroad Station. He enjoyed spending the time, money and effort that he put into the project. In a 1979 interview, Mr. Roth said that when he completed his restoration project, that the station would be the showplace of Northeast Pennsylvania. “The bottom line of this project is that it’s not profit oriented. And I look upon this project as being owned by the people of Wilkes-Barre.” OWNED by THE PEOPLE of Wilkes-Barre….

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

Roth’s efforts paid off tremendously and the site quickly became a hot-spot enjoyed by community members of all ages. In January of 1981, The Citizens’ Voice, in a recurring section called “Up with Teens” declared, “The Station is Alive”!

The article went on to describe The Gandy Dancer Room, which featured both live bands and DJs. The venue was fully equipped with lights, sirens and a moving iron horse where, “teenagers danced disco to the latest tunes.” And as Generation X-ers may recall today, “There was a cover charge for the disco when a band played, and you had to be 18 to enter.”

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

There were pinball machines and Space Invaders if you didn’t like to dance. Or you could have a nice quite meal in one of the box cars, which were neatly designed like they were during the Golden Era of Railroad travel. Each car had a dining table, mirror sink and some even had a pull-out bed.

Station Railroad Car: Post-Roth-Restoration

Station Railroad Car: Post-Roth-Restoration

Or patrons could choose one of the dining areas upstairs. The most popular room was the “Bullet Hole Room” which was rumored to have the actual mirror Jesse James was standing in front of when he was gunned down by the Ford brothers because of the $10,000 reward that was on his head. The crack in the mirror is said to be from the bullet that killed him.

The Marvin Roth Bullet Hole Room

The Marvin Roth “Bullet Hole Room”

The Marvin Roth Station

The Marvin Roth Station

The Station Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

By the time renovations were complete, there were more than 60 railroad cars on the site that Mr. Roth named the “Choo-Choo Inn”. It provided 90 private rooms for overnight accommodations. Inside were brass beds, Victorian-style furniture and overhead fans. In 1987, the tab for a night in a restored rail car was less than $50. In an interview from the same year, Mr. Roth said “people love the overnight stay in the ambiance of our sleeping cars. It’s an experience they like to recount to their friends and relatives back home.”

To further explain the ambience, The Los Angeles Times ended the article with:

“The depot, called The Station, is used for dining and dancing. Its freight platform was converted into a tavern called “Gandy Dancer” after track workers, making it one of Wilkes-Barre’s most unusual night spots. Outside The Station entrance is an old red-and-white crossing watchman’s shanty and nearby, a signalman’s tower. A side-tracked locomotive now and then sounds its whistle to reacquaint visitors with what used to be.”

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Then in December of 1987, The Playboy Steakhouse, with a licensing arrangement with Playboy for an undisclosed fee, opened at the Station Complex, employing 30 women as Playboy Bunnies.

(Admit it, if you are from Wilkes-Barre and part of Generation X or later, you are thinking “We had freakin’ Beer, Peanuts, the Golden Era of Train Travel AND an internationally known concept like Playboy Bunnies, which still enjoys tremendous popularity today?!….how did we NOT become a tourism hot-spot?” Mr. Peanut Guevara  is still waiting for The Revolution to begin…..)

During the 1960s and 1970s, Playboy Clubs were considered the height of citified elegance – or at least opulence. In a 1988 interview, Station manager Jack Cantor said, “We were looking for a new concept to liven up the place. Wilkes-Barre had only read and heard about Playboy clubs. Now we have the concept here.”

“We just want to be brand-new in every way,” said Robert Habeeb, the Steak House’s director of food and beverages, in that same interview. “It’s a revival of the Playboy idea, in a popularly priced restaurant, for the general public. Look, like Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre has the image of being a little prudish,” said Habeeb. “When Playboy clubs were at their height, it never would have flown here. We’re ready for this kind of thing now. The Playboy standard of service is something this town has never seen.”

Apparently, not everyone in the small town was ready to embrace the Playboy Bunny-themed affordable restaurant. “We had a local minister writing lots of letters to the newspapers when we started hiring bunnies in November and we got a little flak when we opened because it was in the middle of the Jessica Hahn deal,” admitted Habeeb in that interview. Ironically, newspaper accounts mentioned the local desire to attract other “themed” restaurants, such as Bennigan’s, to act as “tourist magnets” instead of the Playboy franchise.

The Playboy Steakhouse days in Wilkes-Barre were short lived. Just six months later, in June of 1988, Thom Greco, Rick Kornfeld and Mitch Kornfeld entered into a lease-purchase agreement with Marvin Roth’s Revel Railroad Company, which operated the Station Complex. (Two years later, Marvin Roth suffered a heart attack and died) Shortly afterward it became very apparent that they did not support Roth’s vision for the facility at all. First they banished the Bunnies.

Grimy Kitchen The Station Kitchen: Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

The new owners said the image change would not only recognize the emergence of feminism but would also broaden the establishment’s clientele. “A lot of times, husbands would stay in the rooms,” Mitch Kornfeld said, “and wives would call up and say, ‘You’re staying in the Playboy club?”

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

In June of 1988 Mitch Kornfeld told the Inquirer, “It didn’t work in New York or Chicago, why would it work in Wilkes- Barre? It’s a little passé. If we were in the late ’70s it would work, but we’re in the ’80s. Women are just different. People are different.”

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

The new owners decided to get rid of the Playboy franchise in order to open a new restaurant and nightclub called Norma Jeane’s. They renamed the entire facility Market Street Square. The complex remained open through the 1990s, touting a succession of different nightclub and restaurants names, with none of them ever really becoming successful ventures. At least not successful enough to keep the place open for very long.

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

In 1991, The Morning Call reported that the new owners were experiencing some drawbacks attributed to having 90 guest rooms in train cars. “The cars are narrow, require a great deal of maintenance because they are exposed to weather, and are expensive to heat and cool. Also, guests have to go outdoors to get from their rooms to the restaurants, nightclubs or lobby. Some older people don’t like having to use steps to get to their rooms.”

Recently Removed Railroad Dining Car: Post-Roth-Restoration

Recently Removed Railroad Dining Car: Post-Roth-Restoration

The Kornfelds walked away from the business arrangement in 1992, while “entertainment magnate” Thom Greco remained involved. By 1994, the “Choo-Choo Inn” was closed for good. The entire complex shut down completely in 2001, just 24 years after Marvin Roth rescued the train station from demolition by purchasing the property it sits on for $80,000, and investing more than $3 million dollars of his own money into restoration.

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

In 1999 it was reported by the Times Leader that within that past year, city firefighters were often called to put out fires at the abandoned “Choo-Choo Inn” because homeless squatters were igniting items to keep warm, or vandals were setting fires inside the cars. In an interview at that time, Fire Chief Bruce Reilly said that he’s afraid one of his firefighters will get hurt responding to those train car fires. “Some have Plexiglas windows,” he said. “You can’t bust them. Every time they get boarded up, somebody breaks into them.”

Recently Removed Railroad Car: Post-Roth- Restoration

Recently Removed Railroad Car: Post-Roth- Restoration

The mayor at that time, Tom McGroarty, who seemed ambivalent about the history of the property in newspaper interviews, just wanted the cars removed. A youngster when the motel first opened, the mayor stated in 1999 that he only “kind of” remembers the inn and described the area as nothing but a mess. He gave Greco until October of 2002 to remove the train cars from the property.

On March 30, 2002, according to the Citizens’ Voice, Greco was still looking for new owners for the splendid rail-cars that Mr. Roth so carefully restored as a gift to the citizens of Wilkes-Barre. He had to clear the property and pay off back-taxes. The cars were now “eyesores, attractions for the homeless and fire hazards”, according to the newspaper.

Greco noted that a great deal of money had gone into renovating the railcars to bring them back to their historical nature. “When we closed the hotel”, he said in that interview, “they were in perfect shape. We didn’t put the graffiti on them, set fires or steal from the rooms. We once had a historic area”, he added, “Unfortunately, the railcars ended up in this condition because the people here destroyed them. They were redone and the community destroyed them.” It should also be noted that Greco obviously did very little himself, as the owner, to protect these treasures in his possession from vandals, thieves and homeless people, who don’t exactly view themselves as part of “the community”.

Today, for the second time in history, the fate of the little train station (which again sits abandoned, in ruins, unsecured, plagued by vandals and quickly deteriorating) is back in the hands of the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority— just like it was, pre-Marvin Roth Rescue.

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

In 2006, the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority purchased the property from Thom Greco, becoming its owner for the second time using $5.8 million in taxpayer funded federal community development money. Since this is Northeastern Pennsylvania, where nothing seems to occur in local government without a scandal, the deal also included $10,000 in the form of television sets that were allegedly a “reward” from Greco to a county commissioner for his influence in making the sale happen. The TVs were to be used in a family owned sports bar and led to all kinds of legal implications for the people involved.

The Station:  Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

A recent appraisal of the property estimated that it is now only worth about $1.88 million, which is significantly less than what the county paid to acquire it.

The Station:  Post-Roth- Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth- Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

Current plans for the train station include seeking a commercial real estate firm to market the historic property. In 2012, county manager Robert Lawton said he did not support a prior county decision to spend $2 million renovating the station. He asked the redevelopment authority to consider selling the train station and adjoining properties to a private owner (again). The Authority opened a competitive bidding period on the property. They received absolutely no offers from anyone.

Last July, Wilkes-Barre demolished another landmark structure, the Hotel Sterling, after a failed, government-funded attempt to preserve and market the structure.

Time is quickly running out (again) for the little train station in Wilkes-Barre. The current owner obviously cannot afford to even secure the property from further vandalism since the extent of their security measures begins and ends with a maintenance worker checking the property, along with other rail properties on “most days”, according to reports in the Times Leader.  It is speculated that homeless people currently use the building for shelter during inclement weather. There are also an awful lot of feral cats living there.

Cat Pan at The Station:  Post-Marvin-Roth-Restoration

Cat Pan at The Station: Post-Marvin-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

Post-Marvin Roth Restoration, we live in a different age now, when historic preservation projects are often viewed as “money grabs” by developers nationwide just seeking to exhaust government grants before the buildings are ultimately demolished, just like the Hotel Sterling, simply because there rarely seems to be enough funding available to complete these kinds of projects in their entirety, without additional funding from private sources.

Zombie Ballroom at the Hotel Sterling

Zombie Ballroom at the Hotel Sterling

Cheri Sundra–Guerrilla Historian

When Marvin Roth purchased the train station while it was endangered the first time, he said, “I bought it because I was infatuated with the building, and I made it my hobby. I never went into it as a money maker. It’s not a business.” Unfortunately, for the train station, it ultimately ended up in the care of community members who were ONLY interested in the bottom line and nothing else.

Marvin Roth Wilkes-Barre Historical Train Station Restoration Project

Marvin Roth Wilkes-Barre Historical Train Station Restoration Project

Sadly, there just aren’t many people in the world like Marvin Roth. I wish my hometown had better managed his efforts to save our history when we had the chance.

Historical structures are lucky to get saved once, what are the chances that it can happen twice?

Sign 2

The sign reads:

MARVIN ROTH, A LOCAL ENTREPRENEUR, REHABILITATED THIS EDIFICE

SO POSTERITY MAY FOREVER ENJOY ITS PRESENCE.  AUGUST 15, 1980

The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

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The Library

The Station “Library Room” :  Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

 Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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Scuba

The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station:  Post-Roth-Restoration

The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

Photo courtesy of George Foster

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Cheri Sundra © 2014
All Rights Reserved

The Death(s) of the Wilkes-Barre Train Station & The Funeral Train (Part 1)

Market Street Square

Once upon a time, getting from one place to another was much different than it is today. Life in the village of Wilkes-Barre was rustic, with mud streets running along ash sidewalks, and a water canal system serving as a viable way to transport goods from one location to another.

Consider this account by Wilkes-Barre resident Edith Brower from her book “Little Old Wilkes-Barre As I Knew It”, which was published in 1920:

“I plainly see myself, a child of three, sitting in outdoor winter clothing, waiting for the stage coach to stop at our house. It was the middle of the night, but the driver’s hours were as uncertain as is to-day the outgoing train from Bear Creek to the Junction. Somehow we had to make it to Easton, over the old turnpike, in time for a rather early morning train, if we wished to be in New York City that day. The (stage-coach) driver was not unlikely to be drunk—one had to keep warm you know; but he always managed, so it was said, to land his passengers in Easton safe, sound & prompt.”

Then, as luck, and the Coal Baron gods, would have it, the railroad came steaming into town along the bed of the old canal, doing away with the need of the services of the drunk stage coach driver, in order to have access to train travel. The city of Wilkes-Barre’s prosperity, during those days, is largely due to the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad, later known as the Central Railroad of New Jersey, which brought the local economy in touch with the development of commercial and manufacturing interests of the outside world.

Abandoned Train Station Money Shot

Abandoned Train Station Money Shot

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

Northeastern Pennsylvania is called the “Coal Region” because it holds the largest known deposits of anthracite coal in the Americas. Mining coal was like printing money and pouring it directly into the local economy. As a result, Wilkes-Barre acquired a train station of its own, built in 1868, the boom year of the railroad industry.

The Station Historical

At the same time, the city’s population was in the process of doubling in size within a twenty year span, and urban growth was creating a need for larger venues to accommodate travelers within close proximity to that bustling rail station and busy downtown area. Now the city of Wilkes-Barre had to accommodate the needs of travelers and business moguls using passenger train service, and the city grew as a result, even constructing a grand luxury hotel, the Hotel Sterling, to cater to travelers with money to blow and an appetite for the pampered life. As the years passed, daily express trains, as well as commuter trains by the thousands each year, made Wilkes-Barre a central transportation hub in the era when train travel was at its peak.

Train Schedule May 18, 1901

Train Schedule May 18, 1901

The Central Railroad of New Jersey became famous for its passenger trains in 1882, when the first parlor cars were run from Wilkes-Barre to Philadelphia. Central’s passenger service attracted the attention of the public and elicited universal commendation because of superior coach cars that ran on all of the passenger trains. Accounts from 1897 say that patrons received a quality of service that excelled the industry standards at the time. The coach cars used for passenger travel were illuminated by compressed gas, enabling the guests to read in comfort, while seated anywhere in the car. The finest Pullman cars were run between Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and New York where a buffet lunch was offered. The idea of running buffet-parlor cars on the trains of Central was an outgrowth of the company’s desire to cater to the public’s need for comfort in the best possible way.

Some of the early passenger trains stopping at the depot were ranked the finest in the nation at that time. One of the first was the “Central Flyer”, a fast train to New York inaugurated in 1893; a seashore train called “The Mermaid”; plus a New York Express called “The Bullet” which could make the run from Wilkes-Barre in four hours and ten minutes.

Train

The last passenger train left the city of Wilkes-Barre on July 1, 1963, after two passengers exited the coach car, ending the era of train travel in the city forever. And that was not the last railroad related economic blow to the region. As the demand for the mining industry declined, in 1972, the New Jersey Central Railroad line officially closed all rail operations.

Abandoned Train Station

Abandoned Train Station

Cheri Sundra–Guerrilla Historian

Up to the "Bird's Nest"

Up to the “Bird’s Nest”

Photo courtesy of the League of Gentlemen Explorers

Bench in the "Bird's Nest"

Bench in the “Bird’s Nest”

Cheri Sundra–Guerrilla Historian

Watch your step on the way down!

Watch your step on the way down!

Cheri Sundra–Guerrilla Historian

Abandoned Train Station

Abandoned Train Station

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

In a newspaper interview, Donald Hawkins, who joined the New Jersey Central Railroad in 1942, described the last ride from the Ashley, Pennsylvania, rail yards, “It was a Saturday and I guided the miles of trains along their routes of our area. I had the feeling of loss. It was the end of an era; it was the end of a way of life; it was the beginning of hardships for many.”

The sting of economic adversity was already being felt in Luzerne County after the money that was fed into the local economy, because of World War II, came to a screeching halt. The War meant that American production lines and mineral mines were producing at full steam. Northeastern Pennsylvania was considered a hub, with thousands of trains carrying coal and war equipment. Puffing steam engines used to make their way out of the valley and over the mountains. But changes had already begun to occur. Diesels replaced the steam engine and oil tankers replaced coal cars. The demise of the anthracite coal industry could first be seen by watching the railroads. And at the same time, individualism, the open road and car travel began to replace traveling by train.

In 1972, the last freight train, under the symbol of the Central Rail Road of New Jersey, was assembled at the line’s Ashley Yards. Scheduled to leave on the eastbound track to Jersey City, New Jersey, it was being called “The Funeral Train” by CNJ employees. All of the engineers, fireman, brakemen and conductors called off “sick” that day, leaving the last bit of work to supervisory personnel.

Historic CNJ shot

This was a scene in the Ashley Yards of the Central Railroad of New Jersey in the mid-1970s as the CNJ prepared to close the yards.

 

The last CNJ freight was being put together by Donald Hawkins, Hanover Township, yardmaster, and Jack Tinner, Sugar Notch, general foreman. Asked what they would do at the end of their shifts, the men said they would do as they do on any other day. “We’ll put on our coats, walk out the door and go home,” one man said.

Lord of the Flies

Photo courtesy of George Foster

 

Train Station Exterior / Now Abandoned Night Club Interior

Train Station Exterior / Now Abandoned Night Club Interior

 Cheri Sundra--Guerrilla Historian

Record Player

Photo courtesy of George Foster

Staircase

Photo courtesy of Katherine Rogers

Don’t Miss Part 2:

A Resurrection Reversed:  The Playboy Bunnies & The Death(s) of the Wilkes-Barre Train Station

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Of Concrete City, Mermaids and Ghosts (both Past & Present) Part 2

CCCCHeader 2011

Concrete City 2011

Don’t ever believe the hype about anything.   Almost seventy-six  years ago, on September 13, 1938, Luzerne County’s well-respected news authority, The Sunday Independent, reported about a Ghost Town, called Concrete City, which had been, “left to the ravages of time and scurrying rats”, after a 15 year span  in limbo as an abandonment.

CCCGhosts 1 2013

Concrete City Still Standing in the New Millennium

What was the implied fear in 1938?  Concrete City had become a contradiction!  You see, historians seemed to be claiming that the city had become “only a memory”, yet, there it was, all up in your face. Concrete City had morphed into an apparition for all to witness!

These abandoned homes, once considered a model of modern efficiency, have even survived the dawn of a new millennium, remaining nestled in their wooded area on the boundary between Hanover Township and the city of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, with their industrial-strength existence still generating a lot of interest, which is nothing new.  When these homes were first built, the local headlines exclaimed “Good-Bye To That Landscape Eyesore—The Mine Patch! Workmen’s Homes At Concrete City Are Virtual Villas” in the September 26, 1914 issue of the Times Leader.

Historical View of Concrete City

Historical View of Concrete City

And just in case anyone thinks that hanging out in the abandoned city is some new phenomenon, I’d like to share a blurb I found in the The Sunday Independent from November 18, 1945:

“A Nanticoke resident who had put his heating stove on the back porch last spring found it missing when he went out there to bring it into the house for the coming cold weather.  The cover was still up; however, giving the impression the stove had been there all the time.  He remembered that some youngsters have a “bunk” in one of the abandoned Concrete City houses and upon investigation found his heater there. “

CCCGhosts7

I’ve blogged about NEPA’s infamous Ghost Town, and constantly evolving street art gallery, several times. In fact, Concrete City was my first Guerrilla History post (and how I cringe when I look back at those pictures)!    I still love finding new information to share, not that it is necessarily “new” information– just new to faux historians, like me!  As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog entry, I recently visited the Luzerne County Historical Society to read a Wilkes College Archaeological Field Methods study from 1982.

Concrete City was opened in 1914 and was lived in by 40 families until it was abandoned in 1923.  Everyone living there had a male family member working at the Truesdale Colliery, just a ¼ mile walk away.  It was considered to be ahead of its time, despite the lack of indoor plumbing or heat and electricity.  So what was life really like in this community with homes described as “virtual villas”?

CCCGhosts6

According to that archaeological report, the city was built in the form of a rectangle with all of the houses facing inwards.  Four double block homes are located in the front, which mirrors the units at the back of the property, with eight units on each side.

There used to be a road of crushed shale rock circling the inside of the complex and a single tree was planted in front of each unit, creating a uniform line.  A lawn area was planted in front of the houses and each family was required to have a lawn mower.  Large community trash bins were located near the front of the complex.

Concrete City Historical View

Concrete City Historical View

The homes had dark green trimming and red chimneys.  Concrete walks led to the front and side doors.  Each building had French windows with flower boxes attached.  Hung above every front door by chains was a marquis roof.   A wooden coal shanty and outhouse were built at the rear of each unit, leaving ample space for flower or vegetable gardens.

CCCGhosts2

There was a central well located in the middle of the complex since there was no indoor plumbing.  Water was heated on kitchen stoves so the family members could bathe in a concrete tub located in the kitchen, which was also used to wash clothing.  The garments were then either hung outside when it was warm and dry, or put up “on lines in the enclosed, upstairs back porch during cold weather”.

ccc876

Also in the center of the complex was a baseball diamond, a tennis court and a playground with teeter totters, swings and gymnastic rings.  There was a concrete wading pool for kids and a waist deep, concrete swimming pool for adults.  These were the first in-ground pools built in Wyoming Valley.  The Times Leader described the scene in 1914:

“A circular swimming pool with constantly flowing water was installed in one corner of the big central square and on hot afternoons many of the children, some in improvised swimming costumes  and some with the alarming lack of them that characterizes the swimmin’ hole boy, disported themselves in its safety shallow waters. For there are between eighty and ninety children in Concrete City, and evidences of their presence abound.  Behind this house there is a child’s double seated swing.  In front of that, a benignant collie prowls and smiles upon the tumbling infants.  Even all the rag dolls are not taken in every night.”

ccc pool

Sadly, some accounts say that the adult pool was filled in after a young boy drowned in it.

The city was occupied for nine years before closing.   The archaeological report says, “It was closed, because cracks had developed in a few of the buildings and there were many water and sewage draining problems that could not be resolved.  The Glen Alden Coal Company considered the installation of a sewage system much too costly and decided to shut down the village in 1923.”

The report also says that no evidence is left of the outhouses, coal shanties, playgrounds, a tennis court or baseball diamond.  But apparently in 1982 you could still see the pool.  I can’t say that I’ve personally seen any evidence of it these days and I think I know what may have eventually led to its demise.  According to an article in the Citizens’ Voice on April 19, 1979, “Beautiful Village Now Fire Training School”, the pool was cleaned out and filled with oil and various types of debris to teach firemen how to extinguish oil fires.  What an ironic after-life experience for the drowning victim, that is, if you follow (& believe in) shows about hunting for ghosts in abandoned places. Someone should call Zak Bagans about this!

I’m often contacted by amateur ghost hunters asking if I have knowledge of anyone passing away at abandoned places.  Thanks to the research efforts of genealogist, Plymouth Historical Society Board Member, historical preservationist and living historian, Amy Cargill Kirkpatrick, I have an actual obituary connected to Concrete City.

2-20-1922

Henry Slusser—Heart trouble caused the death Saturday afternoon of Henry Slusser at his home in Concrete City.  He was a former resident of Black Creek Township and is survived by his wife and two step children.  Harold Copeland, at home and Mrs. Walter Sherman of Wanamie; also two brothers, Roger and Rueben Slusser.  The funeral will be hold from the family home Wednesday afternoon at 2 o’clock.  Services will be held at the residence and interment and interment and Edge Hill Cemetery.

In terms of the little boy who drowned, the only newspaper information I was able to locate so far was a quote from a former resident in the Citizens’ Voice article mentioned above.  Another tidbit of information I gleaned from that article was that the homes were originally built for mining officials, but “as more imposing homes were built later for the officials, the concrete structures were rented to the better class of miners.”

CCCGhosts3

According to The Sunday Independent, July 23, 1939, “When the word went out to abandon the settlement, doors, windows and shelves were removed.  The concrete structures themselves have withstood the wear of the elements and still stand erect for the most part.  Only one has crumbled. “

CCCGhosts4

CCCGhosts5

Not a whole lot of rapid change has occurred at Concrete City within the last 76 years.  You have to wonder if the space will ever get the opportunity to develop into something else.  While taking photos of mermaid inspired leggings for the creator of Skinny Jeans and Sippy Cups, Adrienne  Shellenberger (featured in Part 1), I said that I wished I could make a better connection between Concrete City and mermaids for my blog post.  Adrienne said, “That’s ok.  I like things that are random.  Besides, everything evolves from the sea.”  Maybe the fact that mermaids and artists have made their way to Concrete City is a sign that evolution is finally underway.

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Snow Mermaid at Concrete City–Don’t Miss Part 1

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Cheri Sundra © 2014
All Rights Reserved

Of Concrete City, Mermaids and the Ghost Town Stairs to Nowhere (Part 1)

…..with fellow blogger and snow mermaid, Adrienne Shellenberger

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It may be hard to believe now, but in 1982, just 59 years after closing the now abandoned housing development, Luzerne County’s infamous, real-life ghost town was the subject of a Wilkes College Archaeological Field Methods study because people had mostly forgotten about it!  Makes you wonder how mankind has managed to preserve facts about Ancient Egypt and cavemen when we can’t seem to keep track of local places and events from less than a hundred years ago, such as Concrete City, the Kirby Park Zoo, or an abandoned amusement park right off of Route 11!

Apparently, back in 1982, common misconceptions about the development, created out of concrete to house the families of high-level mining industry employees, included the belief that the dwellings were top secret barracks built by the U.S. Army, and that people never actually lived in the city.  But, as we  all know now, the abandoned housing complex was constructed in 1913 by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, and was occupied by forty families until 1923.

Locating the property today can prove to be quite a challenge if you don’t know where you are going.  I learned the hard way several years ago that the Historical Marker for Concrete City isn’t actually located near the ghost town.  The buildings themselves are just shells; and weeds, trash and trees cover much of the long abandoned village.

Concrete City 2 14 a

But visiting Concrete City is so worth the trip!  I recently collaborated on a project involving product shots of mermaid inspired leggings with the creator of Skinny Jeans and Sippy Cups, Adrienne Shellenberger, at this location, and was motivated to dig into the history of the place a little more to see if I could learn anything new about these now prehistoric versions of modern tract housing.

Concrete City 2 14 b

People contact me all of the time with questions about the abandoned housing complex because of previous blog posts.  The most often asked question is if anyone ever died at Concrete City (the answer is “yes”, and “more than once”, but more about that in part 2), and where the bathrooms were located.  One topic that no one ever asks about are the “stairs to nowhere” located in each dwelling on the second floor.  “I thought it was because they used the same “mold” for both floors”, stated Adrienne.   So did I, until deciding to look into documents discussing the interior room plans for the Concrete City houses.

Concrete City was designed by architect Milton Dana Morrill, who is most famous for several government buildings in Washington, D.C.  He is also responsible for other poured concrete homes which were built in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Virginia Highlands.  Morrill invented a system of steel molds to create trough-like boxes which could be filled with concrete to create a house.

Building Concrete City

Building Concrete City

The houses at Concrete City are “double block” style and they are mirror images of each other.  Each unit has eight rooms with a concrete floor basement.  There was no plumbing, electricity or heating in these homes, yet they were considered very modern during the early part of the twentieth century!

1st floor

Concrete City Historical Living Room

Concrete City Historical Living Room

Concrete City 2 14 d

Concrete City Living Room/ Dining Room in December of 2013

The first floor has a living room, dining room and a kitchen with a pantry.  You can easily identify which room is the living room because that is where the front door was located.  Every kitchen, which contained a sink, wash basin and stationary wash tub, had a side entrance door.

Concrete City 2 14 c

Concrete City Side Kitchen Door in January of 2014

Concrete City Historical Kitchen

Concrete City Historical Kitchen

The second floor of every unit had three bedrooms, three clothes closets and a linen closet in the hall.  And one report mentions “an upstairs porch facing the rear of the house” on the second floor.

2nd Floor Design

Take note of G, 3-step unused closet

The homes were heated on the first floor by a coal cooking stove in the kitchen, and a pot belly stove located between the living and dining rooms.

Concrete City 2 14 e

Since concrete is slow to heat, the houses became very cold and damp in the winter.  According to that Wilkes Archaeological Field study, “To overcome the dampness, each unit had an elevated closet on the second floor, the closet being reached by three steps”.

Concrete City Fish Room

Concrete City 2nd Floor Stairs to Nowhere

In the film The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe may have said, “A stairway to nowhere! I think that’s just elegant”, but at Concrete City, elegance had nothing to do with it!  And I wonder if that is the second floor “porch” being referred to above, or is that another mystery yet to be solved?!

3 CCC

While waiting for Part 2, be sure to check out Adrienne Shellenberger’s Concrete City inspired post about mermaid leggings for a post-apocalyptic world!

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The Huber Breaker: Machines of Corruption

     Like a glimpse into the future, I can remember when Beyond Fallen front man, Joe Karavis, performed an Iron Maiden song during a talent show at Hanover Area High School.  So it’s not surprising that he and his band, currently celebrating a decade together, have performed in venues like the Headbangers Open Air Festival in Germany.   Beyond Fallen is currently preparing to release a new CD on September 7th.

Beyond Fallen

     Looking to use imagery that was specific to Northeastern Pennsylvania, vocalist and cover designer, Joe Karavis, chose The Huber Breaker as the backdrop for the cover art for their fourth CD, “Machines of Corruption”.

     “It fits very well with the theme of the title track. The Breaker is kind of scary to me, and I thought it would make a great cover”, explained Karavis.  Like just about everyone else in Luzerne County, Joe has family ties to the coal industry, “Yeah,  I had some family members that worked in the mines… it made them pretty miserable I guess.”

     The Huber Breaker, which has been abandoned since the late 1970s, has been a popular Urban Exploration site for decades, and is often described by explorers as “ a death trap” and  “twisted metal” because of the condition of the structure.   “I went there to take the photos and I wanted to get done and out of there as fast as I could”, said Karavis about his experience photographing The Breaker. “It’s very quiet, and you feel like something or someone is about to jump out at you”, he explained.

     I asked Karavis why he’s remained true to his heavy metal musical roots.  “It was the type of music that best suited my voice. One thing led to another and I just went with it”, he replied.  I wondered if the genre has changed since his high school talent show days.   “It’s evolved”, Joe explained, “but not to the point that it’s gone too far away from the things that make the genre what it is. Many newer bands are doing some interesting things. It’s a style if you take it from the basics, that can branch out into many directions.”

     Beyond Fallen, which has quite an international following, is often described in articles as a “US Power Metal” band.  I asked Karavis if that means that it has a different sound than Metal from bands in other countries.  “I don’t think the labels on styles always interpret into what the music sounds like. Some people have called us that style. It could be that it’s faster and more energetic than traditional heavy metal, with a more riff-driven approach, but that’s not always the case”, Joe explained.

     In discussing NEPA’s influence on his artistic vision, why there is an interest in NEPA grown music abroad, and how music transcends geography, Joe said, “We tapped into a niche. We just found that we had more interest from the European metal community in what we were doing, so we focused more on that. I think we have some similarities with the Midlands Birmingham region of Great Britain, where legendary bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest came from. A blue collar industrial region. It’s also not exactly a cultural Mecca here like New York, London, Paris etc. so you try to find inspiration in other ways.”

      While Beyond Fallen enjoys an international fan base, they do all of their recording locally at SI Studios in Old Forge.  “It’s always been great working at SI”, said Karavis, “This is the fourth time this band has recorded there. We are lucky to have a studio like that in our area. The guys there are professionals, and we feel comfortable.”

     Joe Karavis writes all of the band’s lyrics himself, which have been described as politically and socially charged.  I asked Joe what fans can expect to find on their new CD.  “We have different topics for each song. One is about the Roman Emperor Caligula, corrupted by his own ego and hunger for power. The title track is about how humans are used and abused. The CD has all the lyrics included so I’ll leave the rest up to the listener”, he explained.

Beyond Fallen

Beyond Fallen

Photo Credit:  Keith A Barbuti

     I asked Karavis when he started writing his own music.  “I think when I was in grade school me and some other boys used to make up our own words to popular songs, like dirty limericks etc. The first couple recordings I did were horrible, but you have to start somewhere”, he said.

     When asked what he wanted people to know about the new CD, Karavis responded, “We are proud of it. Hopefully everyone will like it. It’s not for everyone, but it’s very creative and the songs have a lot of energy. We had more time to write these songs than the ones on the previous album. Every time we record there’s a sense that this could be the last thing we ever do, so we try our best to make it great.”

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