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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Sterling tour

Let’s see here, the County and CityVest more or less partnered in an effort to revitalize the Hotel Sterling. And after the passage of many years and the expending of millions of dollars, the grand old hotel seems to be all but kaput. At least, that’s what the touring engineers said.

So with the engineers claiming in no uncertain terms that we need a controlled demolition rather than a sudden collapse, it becomes the City’s problem, with many now taking unfair, accusatory shots at Wilkes-Barre’s leaders.

No matter how this story ends, people need to be reminded that this mess was not created by the City of Wilkes-Barre. What’s more, Wilkes-Barre does not have a million dollars with which it can demolish a building it does not own.

Some of you who followed some of my earliest exploits probably remember that I took an impromptu tour of the Sterling back in either 2001 or 2002. I can’t remember which and I don’t care to research the exact date.

This wasn’t the first abandoned landmark I had toured. As far as gaining access to these so-called mothballed structures goes, all you have to do is follow the drunken homeless.

During my tour, I saw the basement as well as the ground floor. It was in pretty rough shape back then, speaking from an aesthetic standpoint. I posted a few pictures taken inside on the old site, but they were less than excellent due to the darkness. Basically, I had a Maglite and the camera flash and that’s it. But I had enough lighting to see what the homeless had brought to the structure: needles, condoms, beer bottles, skin mags and camp fires. Yes, camp fires.

What I planned to do was go to the top floor and take pictures from every side looking outward. And then I’d post those pics and ask if anyone could tell me where they were taken from. The problem was I got a bit queasy about the water trickling ever so steadily down the steps from above.

If you know anything about how structures are constructed and such, you already know that nothing can compromise the structural integrity faster than moisture. Especially, unchecked water.

I went up a ways to take a peek at the second floor only to hear a rather pronounced bang from somewhere up there above me. Basically, something or other had become detached from something else and crashed with a mighty thud. Being that I did a similar tour of the old steam heat building only to have it collapse less than two weeks later, I was thinking that perhaps the lucky rabbit’s foot was becoming overmatched. And at that point, I headed for the rear alley way exit.

I know what I saw, heard and smelled almost a decade ago. And from what I’ve read in the newspapers, water has been compromising that structure ever since. That, in and of itself, is probably enough to have it declared unsafe. And when we add the recent earthquake as well as the basement flooding to the volatile mix, I would not recommend driving or walking too close to it until this mess is resolved.

The engineers claim it’s long run needs to end and end soon. To that the usual activist suspects cry foul, demand forensic financial audits and demand an “independent” engineering analysis.

While that’s all well and good and fair, I’m here to tell you that I didn’t feel safe in there back when it’s structural integrity was supposedly up to snuff. And I think turning it into a political football during an election season probably compromises the safety of those unfortunate enough to catch a red light at that intersection.

I was in there. The people claiming it is not structurally compromised were not.

For what it’s worth, there it is.



Stephen Albert said...

This isn't a whole hell of a lot different than the situation with the old Hotel Casey in Scranton. Basically as building like this leaks, the structure rots and you run the risk of "pancaking"...floors crashing into floors. In a downtown space like this, that is not a good outcome.

Million dollars seems like a lot? Let's compare that cost if someone happens to be around when it collapses onto itself as well as the damage to surrounding property by a demolition of the unplanned variety.

Kevin T. said...

Interesting post. I would have liked to have taken that tour in the Sterling. The last time I was there, I believe was during the 1992 election. I believe that either the Dems or The Republicans had a campaign headquarters in the lobby.
I collect political memorabilia and stopped by to see if I can pick up some campaign buttons.
Funny, in this age where both parties spend millions on campaigns neither one offers free campaign buttons anymore.
I also recall that a lot of the old elementary schools that were structurally sound were torn down back in my youth as the school districts merged. Very few still stand in the Pittston area.
We used to explore the schools when they were abandoned before they were ultimately razed. That was quite an adventure running around empty halls and hearing echoes from floors below. What a time!