From Thomas Edison to a Residence for Students of a Local Proprietary College: How we Converted a Historic but Run-Down Hotel into a Hub for the Community
The land that this property was built on was once owned by the inventor Thomas Edison, who sold it to the developers who would begin constructing a hotel on it. Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit, bankrupting the lender holding the construction loan and ultimately halting the project. The building lay unfinished in the center of the downtown area. It was a group of local citizens, who banded together to pool their resources and skills, that completed construction. In the summer of 1930, the hotel opened its doors for the first time. Over the years, it hosted many notable people including President Herbert Hoover, who gave a speech from the lobby.
Sadly, ownership changed hands and the property fell into disrepair. Upon our appointment by a Superior Court Judge, we found the 62-room hotel to be very poorly maintained with guests living in extremely unsanitary conditions. Rooms were soiled, some lacked running water, part of the roof was wide open allowing pigeons to roost inside, the hotel was infested with pests, and there were multiple broken windows. The hotel didn’t just lack basic amenities, it was also dangerous. A ceiling had collapsed in the basement, dry rot and exposure to the elements had damaged the structural integrity, there were unpermitted and unsafe modifications to the building, and electrical and plumbing installations were shoddy.
Rethinking the Building Use of this Property
Despite the terrible conditions onsite when we were appointed, we could still appreciate the beauty of this property and recognize the history within its walls. We wanted to renovate it, but due to the local economy at the time, it didn’t seem practical to continue to use the building as a hotel. However, we found that a local proprietary college needed spaces to house their students. It was attractive to college administrators to be able to offer students a place where they could live together, rather than having them scattered, renting rooms in different parts of the city. Additionally, as the college offers shorter 12-15 week courses on rotation throughout the year, with more students in each course than guest rooms in the property, there would be an immediate and consistent demand for the rooms. In addition to the guest rooms, the building also has ground floor commercial space and, with its central location in the downtown area, it could be an attractive place for the public to utilize for special events. We envisioned restoring the hotel ballroom and renting it out for weddings, graduations and conferences. We established this idea and then a local development group ran with it. When the local development group first let us know how great their work was, we saw what a fantastic job they had done.
From Nuisance Property to Residence Hall and Community Center
The project is now complete, the property is open to students at the college and the ground floor hosts the public for special events. The renovation went very well and the property looks drastically different than it did before we were appointed. Many of the original aspects of the interior were able to be salvaged and restored, including the tilework, chandeliers and an antique sofa in the lobby! Effort was expended to maintain the original look and feel of the property and it paid off.