Posts Tagged ‘ Urban Exploration ’

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!

Sterling Crop 2

Sterling Crop 3

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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.

Sterling 2

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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

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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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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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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?!

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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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Cheri Sundra © 2014
All Rights Reserved

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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Cheri Sundra © 2013
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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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TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Cheri Sundra © 2013
All Rights Reserved

Hotel Sterling: History Deconstructed

Hotel Sterling:  History Deconstructed

Whose Version of History Gets to be Saved?

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Featuring a “Grand Luxury” Finale

of Hotel Sterling Demolition Photography

by Steve Woitkowski of

Capture the Moment Photography Studios

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The definition of “history” is the past considered as a whole.  So until last week, the Hotel Sterling wasn’t “history”, it was actively part of the present.  The Hotel Sterling was still a “verb” in our community. 

This is what I find myself contemplating:   Considering that since 1964 the building had seriously declined way past the point where it was even being used as a hotel, which historical version of the building were historians and preservationists trying to “sell” to us as part of our collective history?

And, more importantly, whose history were they actually telling with that version?

Are there more people alive today, who have experienced the Hotel in the way that its history was being packaged for consumption, or do the majority of Luzerne County residents who are still alive, have a much different, and more important, history to recall about the Hotel Sterling?

To me, as an Urban Explorer, documenting the fallout from the financial decline of our community, it represents something MUCH different than a fancy Grand Luxury Hotel where people used to dine in The Palm Room, and dance the night away in the ballroom.

It's a Zombie Ballroom now at the Hotel Sterling

To most people in Generation X, Generation Y and whatever generation we are at now, the decrepit Hotel Sterling has never been anything close to that vision for them either.  In fact, for more than HALF of the years in the “life” of the Hotel Sterling, it looked NOTHING like the image that preservation proponents were trying to spoon-feed to the public.

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Sterling 2

For the majority of her years as a part of Luzerne County’s history, the Hotel Sterling was not THAT hotel being portrayed by preservationists—that “history” is only true for the years occurring between 1897 and 1949, which is only 52, of the Hotel Sterling’s 116 years, as a part of the Luzerne County community.

Then from 1949 to the day demolition began, 64 YEARS LATER, the reality is that the Sterling existed as a downgraded, community-centric version of its former self, until it eventually declined to the point of existing as a mold infested, water damaged, hunk of derelict, community resource pillaging,  real estate for the last few generations of Luzerne County residents to experience in the physical form.

How do you really interpret “collective history” when everyone’s experience, even of the physically present, can be so vastly different?  How do you ultimately decide whose “history” is most important to consider, and what gets to be documented, remembered and revered?

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Whose story gets to be told—the living or the dead?  The rich or the poor?  The young or the old?   And how long is it OK to put off creating the history of the future, in order to attempt to save the history of the past?

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I take real issue with people trying to sell any community on an historical preservation attempt that may not necessarily be in their best financial interest, based upon the assertion that buildings somehow ARE the heart and soul of that community.  Buildings and institutions are often more exclusionary in nature, than inclusive.   And I don’t mean that these places openly segregate community members in an overt fashion.  I’m talking about the kind of subtle socioeconomic based exclusion, that often goes unacknowledged by the people doing the excluding, but is felt at a core level by those being excluded.

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Obviously, the more affluent classes had wider access to the Hotel Sterling during its prime years as a Grand Luxury Hotel.  It was ultimately constructed strictly for the purpose of meeting the needs of the elite and business classes, while they were here in Luzerne County, exploiting the lower classes for profit. Working class people didn’t have the financial or social privilege of accessing that “string orchestra/Lobster Thermidor” version of the Hotel Sterling nearly as often as the wealthy got to have it.  The coal miners, for example,  with their dirty clothing and soot covered faces couldn’t belly up to the bar on their way home from work, to throw back a few beers, next to the same kind of people who were exploiting them for profit.

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Sterling 1

Sure as the “Grand” version of the Hotel began to slowly devolve, it became more inclusive to a larger portion of the Luzerne County community, as a venue for social club meetings and high school graduations.  More people of a different class structure began mingling at the bar. 

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And as the decline to eventual abandonment continued, the now decrepit Hotel Sterling became low income housing for the elderly, including some of those coal miners.  But much like the version of the Hotel Sterling that they lived in then, the retired coal miners were also slowly dying, because of the now diseased lungs that were inflicted upon them, as they worked for the people for whom the very Hotel Sterling was constructed,  for use as a Grand Luxury Hotel, and then cast aside, like the workers themselves, when no longer useful.

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Hotel Sterling Lobby During the 1972 Agnes Flood

And even at that point, a large portion of the Luzerne County population was STILL excluded from access to the now decaying Hotel Sterling,  based upon a different set of socioeconomic and age restrictions.  Until the day came when the doors closed for one last time, and an entire generation went through life in Luzerne County, with no active access to the Hotel Sterling whatsoever.  At least not by walking through the front door!  😉

Abandoned Hotel Sterling: The Harsh Light of Day

The Harsh Light of Day

Cheri Sundra–Guerrilla Historian

Actually, you could make a strong argument for the fact that the Hotel Sterling has robbed Generation X and Generation Y , of their own shot at experiencing a “Grand Luxury” version of their community and their future, because a blighted structure, with little hope of successful redevelopment, lingered for too long, on a prime parcel of real estate, impeding future economic growth in their hometown.   THAT’S the version of history that ALL of us will recall about the Hotel Sterling, and unfortunately, it’s the history that will have the most impact upon Luzerne County’s future.

Picture 23

Sterling

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Photo Credit:  Steve Woitkowski

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Photo Credit:  Steve Woitkowski

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Photo Credit:  Steve Woitkowski

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Photo Credit:  Steve Woitkowski

4Photo Credit:  Steve Woitkowski

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Photo Credit:  Steve Woitkowski

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Photo Credit:  Steve Woitkowski

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Photo Credit:  Steve Woitkowski

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Cheri Sundra © 2013
All Rights Reserved