Author Archive

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

Happy 4th of July

2Powder

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.

8powder

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.”

Powder Factory 24

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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Return To

GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

 

Cheri Sundra © 2014
All Rights Reserved

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

GFoster 1

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….

Scan0003Marvin Roth checking details

Post-Roth-Restoration

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

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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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

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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

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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The Station: Post-Roth-Restoration

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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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RETURN TO

GUERRILLA HISTORY TABLE OF CONENTS

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”.

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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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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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Hotel Sterling: Yesterday’s Papers are Such Bad News

Apartments for Rent HD

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As Mick Jagger used to sing, “Yesterday’s paper’s are such bad news”,  and no truer words could be spoken about the Hotel Sterling, which has been reduced to rubble,  as of last week.  While demolishing the Hotel is still a controversial issue  among community members,  looking back at newspaper coverage since 2001, provides some important clues about why the project may have ultimately failed.

I did have this information up in another post titled “The Undead Days: Part 2”, which I am currently developing into another project about the Hotel Sterling, and as a result, had to remove the post from my website.  While much of the post was just a silly mash-up story, I think it is important to put the newspaper excerpts back out there for anyone who would like to read and digest what nuggets of insight may be contain within the facts that local journalists covering  the story felt were important to convey to the public.  This is by no means a complete list of all news stories about the Sterling.  But it may provide a starting point for anyone else who may be interested in delving into the topic, as reported to by the local newspapers in the past.

Hotel Sterling in the News

The advance state of disrepair the Hotel Sterling has fallen into in downtown Wilkes-Barre has local historians worried about its future.”—The Valley’s Vanishing History”, Citizens’ Voice, March 18, 2001  

Congressman Kanjorski has also been working behind the scenes for years to create opportunities for the resurrection of the Sterling.  On Wednesday, the federal lawmaker confirmed that last week he led a developer on a tour of the Sterling.  He has been in touch with four different developers over the past year.  He declined to identify them but stressed that it is important to get the Sterling in the hands of CityVest so that redevelopment proposals could be solicited to get the project moving forward.” — “Developers interested in Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, May 9, 2002

The 425 room hotel was a symbol of Wilkes-Barre’s prominence.  Now, it’s a symbol of the city’s decay.–“Saving City, Sterling Go Hand in Hand”, Times Leader, December 17, 2002

CityVest is working to put the vacant hotel in moth balls and prevent additional damage from the elements“–Saving City, Sterling Go Hand in Hand”, Times Leader, December 17, 2002

Private development is the key to resurrection for the quickly declining hotel–“Saving City, Sterling Go Hand in Hand”, Times Leader, December 17, 2002

If projects like the inflatable damn, the downtown museum and the River Commons recreation area pan out, it will make the Sterling more attractive to developers.  But it won’t be enough.–“Saving City, Sterling Go Hand in Hand”, Times Leader, December 17, 2002

And unless we turn the tide, we’ll forever be a city that has seen better days, and the shell of the Sterling will stand as proof.  We can still hook a developer for the Sterling if things don’t turn around, but we’ll have to use smoke and mirrors. We’ll have to hide the newspapers when prospects visit, so they won’t read about our dirty politics, disappearing doctors, etc.–“Saving City, Sterling Go Hand in Hand”, Times Leader, December 17, 2002

 “In the past few months, other developers near and far have shown interest in the hotel, (Alex) Rogers said.  In addition, he added, residents, architects and others have offered to assist CityVest, which has secured the complex of buildings in an attempt to reduce further weather-related damage.”  — “Some Sterling Examples”, Times Leader, April 3, 2003   

Lincoln was chosen to find a developer (for the Hotel Sterling) because the firm has acquired a lot of experience in the region.  It has played a major role in guiding commercial development on Highland Park Boulevard near the Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township and recently completed a detailed market study of Wilkes-Barre for the Diamond City Partnership. —“National Firm Will Market Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, September 16, 2003

Gary Brandeis, senior vice president of Lincoln Properties and James Stevenson, vice president, were introduced, and both expressed confidence that the Sterling complex would be successfully transformed. —“National Firm Will Market Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, September 16, 2003

CityVest paid $1 million for the dilapidated Sterling complex in November 2002 at sheriff sale, a benchmark event following years of abandonment, decay and protracted litigation. —“National Firm Will Market Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, September 16, 2003

CityVest was provided with a $1 million federal grant from U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-11 & a $4 million loan from the Luzerne County Office of Community Development.  Wilkes-Barre City, the Wilkes-Barre Area School District and Luzerne County agreed to forego $1 million in back taxes and penalties to facilitate the purchase and redevelopment of the Sterling. —“National Firm Will Market Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, September 16, 2003

In January 2003, CityVest retained a team of local architects and engineers to assist them to stabilize and protect the complex from further decline. —“National Firm Will Market Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, September 16, 2003

 With $9 million already raised, the corporation must look for new ways to come up with the remainder of the cash (to cover the first part of the project in excess of $29 million). “We anticipate raising private sector money and will continue to seek public assistance as well”, the chairman said.  Rogers said that with the capital that CityVest has already secured, the corporation could actively market the building. –- “Imagine the Possibilities”, The Sunday Voice, October 10, 2004

Renovations to the Hotel Sterling will begin this spring and will not be completed until at least 2007, according to CityVest Chairman Alex Rogers.  However, he said he has already fielded over 20 inquires about the proposed condominiums and offices. – “Market Shows interest in Condominiums”, The Sunday Voice, October 10, 2004    

Working from the seventh floor down, obvious challenges to redevelopment could be seen everywhere.  The building has problems with infestation and mold, and also sustained heavy water damage due to prolonged leakage in the roof.  A hole opened in the seventh floor penthouse suite, and Rogers said water came pouring into the building for four months.  Because of that, the suspended ceilings in many of the former apartments have crumbled, sending debris onto the floor.—“Imagine the Possibilities”, The Sunday Voice, October 10, 2004

 The commissioner (Vonderheid) said the Sterling project was specifically important because he feels there is a need for high end housing in the City of Wilkes-Barre.—“Market Shows Interest in Condominiums”, The Sunday Voice, October 10, 2004

The mayor agreed there is a market for upscale housing in the city of Wilkes-Barre.  “I’ve been told that if the housing industry changed in the city of Wilkes-Barre, people who live in the suburbs would seriously consider moving back into the city”, Leighton said.—“Market Shows Interest in Condominiums”, The Sunday Voice, October 10, 2004

 “The governor’s award of $3 million made it clear that we had sufficient capital to complete the project”, Alex Rogers, City Vest executive director — “Sterling Gets Developer”, Times Leader, December 1, 2004 

“CityVest, the nonprofit corporation driving the rehabilitation of the Hotel Sterling is no longer shopping the decrepit landmark to private developers, but is planning to take on the project itself”……“Interest in a reincarnated Sterling has already begun to manifest itself, (Alex) Rogers said.  “The number of inquiries we have received from people waiting to live or work in a refurbished Hotel Sterling has vastly surpassed any of our individual expectations.”—“CityVest To Do the Job Using Millions in Grants”, Times Leader, December 1, 2004 

“CityVest shifted gears from marketing the Sterling to developers to becoming the developer after receiving millions of dollars in state funding in September.”–“CityVest To Do the Job Using Millions in Grants”, Times Leader, December 1, 2004

The initial phase of the project has been projected to cost about $22 million.  Thus far, about $8 million in cash has been promised by federal, state and county sources, and $1 million in tax forgiveness has been by the city, county and school board.  “We are going to need a lot of private financing to go with the public money”, Rogers said.  -– “Firms:  Sterling Project Can Thrive”, Times Leader, April 15, 2005

He (Rogers) agrees with Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski, that the Hotel Sterling might be eligible for federal tax credits meant for development projects in low-income communities. –“State Ensuring Preservation of Hotel Sterling’s Legacy:  Bureau for Historical Preservation Will OK CityVest’s Progress”, Citizens’ Voice, June 7, 2005

 “Without any formal marketing, CityVest board members can’t go to any functions in town without somebody expressing interest”, Rogers said..–“State Ensuring Preservation of Hotel Sterling’s Legacy:  Bureau for Historical Preservation Will OK CityVest’s Progress”, Citizens’ Voice, June 7, 2005

 

The building schedule has not been established.  That’s up to CityVest which is still making environmental inspections and consulting with the state Bureau for Historical Preservation to make sure the landmark’s historical integrity is protected.–“Historic Landmarks Offer Potential, Pitfalls for Architects”, Citizens’ Voice, June 7, 2005

To date, the bureau remains pleased with the relationship with CityVest.–“State Ensuring Preservation of Hotel Sterling’s Legacy:  Bureau for Historical Preservation Will OK CityVest’s Progress”, Citizens’ Voice, June 7, 2005

 

Currently, CityVest has accounted for about $9 million of the projected $20 million to $22 million needed for renovation.  But Rogers is optimistic about CityVest’s chances of raising the needed $10 million to $12 million..–“State Ensuring Preservation of Hotel Sterling’s Legacy:  Bureau for Historical Preservation Will OK CityVest’s Progress”, Citizens’ Voice, June 7, 2005

 “The state is filled with historic structures facing demolition, he said. He’s been working with the owners of the massive former Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Chester County, which has an unknown future.  One of Kimmerly’s (of Preservation Pennsylvania) colleagues is involved in the potential demolition of a vacant former brewery in Allentown. “These are difficult times economically. Private funders don’t have money. The government doesn’t have any money, and typically that’s where money comes for historic preservation,” Kimmerly said. – “Preservation Pennsylvania is monitoring Hotel Sterling”, Times Leader, April 3, 2011

As the nonprofit CityVest embarked on the Hotel Sterling renovation project in 2001, officials and residents in a smaller Ohio city were taking on a similar project to try to save their deteriorating historic hotel. But while the Hotel Sterling is facing possible demolition, the Fort Piqua Plaza in Piqua, Ohio, is now home to a library, coffee shop, banquet hall, community museum and art gallery, said James Oda, director of the Piqua Public Library housed in the building. “It was a controversial issue locally. We had people who said, ‘Why don’t we tear it down and start over?’ Others said, ‘No. This is part of our community’s heritage,’” Oda said. “Fortunately, people who wanted to preserve the building opened their pocketbooks,” Oda said…….. “The private donations came from sources as diverse as an elementary school selling popsicles to some multimillion-dollar donations primarily from a prominent family,” Oda said. –“Ohio City’s Hotel Saved”, Times Leader, April 3, 2011   (NOTE:  The building opened in 2008)

The owner of the landmark Hotel Sterling wants Luzerne County government to determine the fate of the deteriorating structure, which would cost up to an estimated $26.8 million to $35.6 million to fully restore, according to a new study. CityVest asked county commissioners to decide whether the building will be saved or demolished because the county provided $6 million in funding for the nonprofit to acquire and preserve the building. “In recognition of the substantial investment the county has made and the broad community interest, we ask the county to review this study, select the preferred future direction, acquire title and serve as project manager,” the study says.—“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011

The possibility of demolition of the River Street landmark has generated lots of debate since it became public last month, after a decade of promises that the building would be restored. Picketers have urged officials to save the once luxurious hotel, while others have demanded an end to government subsidy of the project. . ..CityVest, known as a last-resort developer, assumed ownership of the building from a back-tax sale in 2002.—“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011

Renovating and converting the downtown Wilkes-Barre property into 32 condos, offices and retail space would generate an estimated $15.3 million in revenue, leaving a net government investment in the project of $11.5 million to $20.2 million, said the study released Friday by the building’s nonprofit owner and developer, CityVest. Demolition and site preparation would cost $900,000 to $1.2 million, the study says.—“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011

The study is packed with deficiencies in the building.    Roofing experts estimated it would cost more than $1.4 million to complete permanent repairs to the roof framing and install a new rubber roof and roof drainage.  Despite roof shoring in 2007, some portions of the roof are collapsing, and water is getting into the building in “significant volumes,” the study said. The floor is sagging in numerous areas, and there’s evidence of mold and other potential toxins, including a “pretty, green ‘carpet’ of moss on some floors, ceilings and walls.” “If there is mold growing in the cells of the floor system (or even if public perception is that it is there), the building might not be insurable at an economic level,” the study says. The building’s structural steel system appears sufficient, but beams that have been regularly exposed to moisture may need to be repaired and replaced. The windows would also have to be replaced. Water is getting into the building in “significant volumes,” according to Keast & Hood Co. The brick masonry at the rear of the structure needs “considerable repair, re-pointing and cleaning.” The study says a major snow load, high wind storm or movement of the make-shift support bracing could result in a catastrophic failure of the building or integrity of the exterior façade. “The observations of local contractors and engineers further confirm these conditions to the point where concern has been expressed about the safety of anyone entering the upper portion of the building or performing any work in that area,” the study says.—“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011

CityVest has provided detailed funding and site information to potential private developers, met with them and in one instance signed a letter of intent, the study says. “Every potential developer – including the firm that had signed the letter of intent – ultimately withdrew themselves from consideration,” the report said. All the developers who walked away from the project identified the cost of repairs as the reason, particularly when they couldn’t guarantee they could sell or rent the residential and/or commercial space at price points that would cover their expenses, the study said. —“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011

Among the building deficiencies identified by developers:   Low ceiling height, compromised views from small windows, an inefficient layout for use as residential or hotel units, unusable space created by the large lobby and atrium, inconsistent floor elevations on the second floor, narrow elevators that don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, concern that replacement of the floors could risk structural instability of the building because of the way the floors are anchored to the building’s perimeter walls.– “Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011

The building has “physically and functionally” lost its status as a center of downtown Wilkes-Barre over the last 40 years..– “Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011

“Vacant, stripped of every item that contributed to a memorable experience, the remaining shell is cold, damp and lifeless,” said the study, which was prepared by Susquehanna Real Estate LP. “The current condition is not only poor, but also dangerous.” —“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011

County Controller Walter Griffith told commissioners Wednesday that he is still auditing records on how the $6 million was spent, though his findings to date convince him that the county should have been more closely monitoring the project..  —“W-B building ‘emergency’ “, Times Leader, April 21, 2011

CityVest officials defended their handling of the project in a letter to citizens, saying the government funding was used to pay inherited back taxes, demolish an adjoining structure, acquire land to make the parcel larger and remove “cheap and rotting” interior walls in drop ceilings in the 113-year-old hotel. —“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011

CityVest on Wednesday issued a statement in response that said a developer pulled out of the Sterling Hotel project in early 2010 when it was learned the $3 million was redirected. CityVest disputes the city’s claim that certain conditions were not met.—“CityVest, City Clash on $3M”, Times Leader, June 23, 2011

“Federal investigators following up on a grand jury subpoena issued last week to the Luzerne County commissioners took possession Monday of hundreds of documents chronicling the failed rehabilitation of the historic Hotel Sterling in Wilkes-Barre, officials said.”—“Feds Seize Hundreds of Hotel Sterling Documented”, Times Leader, December 7, 2011

If an agreement isn’t reached, Wilkes-Barre eventually may be forced to demolish the city-condemned structure at its expense. The city would then have to put a lien on the property in an attempt to recoup the money, though the county would also be in line with its own lien for $6 million.—“ CityVest yet to sign deal on Sterling”, Times Leader, February 9, 2012

CityVest owes the county $6 million loaned to preserve and market the structure, and the county has set aside another $1 million in community development funding for demolition. The nonprofit asked the county to take over the project last year because it’s out of money.  —“Architect wants to mothball Sterling”, Times Leader, February, 21, 2012

(Carl) Handman, who had worked on the Sterling project in 2003, has publicly criticized the building’s nonprofit owner, CityVest, for failing to heed his past recommendation to mothball the structure to prevent further deterioration. CityVest representatives have said the nonprofit relied on project manager Lincoln Property Co.’s expert opinion on what work should be completed with the limited funds allocated for the project. —“Architect wants to mothball Sterling”, Times Leader, February, 21, 2012

What did the interior of the Hotel Sterling actually look like at this point?  

See for yourself at

Hotel Sterling video: As The Vultures Picked Her Bones

A March 2011 report released by the Sterling’s nonprofit owner, CityVest, contained a $1.2 million estimate to demolish the property. The study also references a 2009 roofing company estimate of $1.4 million to redo the roof, replacing the wood framing with steel and metal. Other portions of the CityVest study say it will cost anywhere from $5 million to $7.7 million to stabilize and mothball the 114-year-old building at the corner of River and Market streets. —“Architect wants to mothball Sterling”, Times Leader, February, 21, 2012

Mothballing would involve structural work, roof repairs, window sealing and ventilation.  –“ Several Luzerne County Council members are willing to consider mothballing the landmark Hotel Sterling for potential future development, but most are leaning toward proceeding with demolition”, Times Leader, February 23, 2012

 The demolition of the Hotel Sterling began on July 25, 2013

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You can see Hotel Sterling Time Lapse Demo Video HERE

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