WILKES-BARRE — The Hotel Sterling building can’t be saved, but its history will be.
The city is creating a permanent display about the once-glorious hotel. Drew McLaughlin, the city’s administrative coordinator, said a glass display case will be on the first floor of City Hall and will contain photographs, postcards, news articles and other historically significant items of the Hotel Sterling for public display until the building on the corner of River and Market streets is demolished and a new development is completed.
“At that time, the case will be transferred to the site of the former building within the new development,” McLaughlin said. “This permanent display is a condition of the city’s agreement with the Pennsylvania Historic Commission.”
Ann Safley, historic preservation specialist for the Historic Commission, said the consultation process is required by federal law when funds are used for the demolition or development of an historic site. She said the purpose of the discussions between the Historic Commission and the city is to mitigate an acceptable way to preserve the history of the building and to ease the adverse effects of the demolition.
“The purpose of creating the display is to assure that people will remember part of their history of a building that is not physically there anymore,” Safley said. “I’ve been in the building, and I’m very much aware of the sad condition that it is in.”
McLaughlin said the Sterling is located within the River Street Historic District.
“In order to demolish such a building, we need to conform to PHMC guidelines and get their approval,” McLaughlin said. “That’s why we executed the memorandum of agreement with them, and one of the conditions was a permanent display. This is procedure. HUD will only require that we have satisfied PHMC before release of funds is given.”
Mayor Tom Leighton said creating a permanent display will preserve the legacy of the hotel.
“This building was important to the city and the region and it should be remembered for what it was and not its unfortunate fate,” Leighton said. “In no uncertain terms, that display will be on permanent display at the site once any development is completed.”
One of the featured items in the display will be a copy of the speech delivered by then U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy during a 1960 campaign stop in the city. A photograph shows Kennedy riding in a convertible past the Hotel Sterling with the late U.S. Rep. Dan Flood seated in the back seat.
Kennedy later spoke on Public Square. It was once week before the general election when he defeated Republican Richard M. Nixon to win the presidency.
The city has decided to rebid the demolition after Luzerne County opted out of sharing in the cost. The low bid that came in on the first request was about $450,000.
Protesters stood outside the Sterling for months hoping to save the building that opened in 1898. However, city officials have said that the structure is falling apart “from the inside out” and can not be saved.
In September 2011, when flood water from the Susquehanna River seeped through the Market Street Bridge flood gates, large quantities of water poured into the nearby Sterling, causing damage to the foundation and forcing the city to reroute traffic away from the area.