Friday, May 23, 2014

The Charitone: Once again 'an ornament' to the city

Here's how the Hotel Charitone looks now, once again "an ornament and credit to the city."
Lots of folks will be visiting Chariton over the Memorial Day weekend; hopefully enjoying meals at the new Hotel Charitone Market Grille. So I thought it might be a interesting to reprint this piece, written by Caroline Ruden and published in The Chariton Leader on June 28, 1994, as a point of reference --- then and now.

By 1994, The Charitone was in bad shape, divided into apartments top to bottom, recently closed down by the state fire marshal. It would have another chance in 1997 when Greg Parker acquired the building, stripped out all the interior walls and moved Gilworth Furniture Store in. That incarnation was short-lived, however, and the trend was steadily downward after that --- until early 2012, when Hotel Charitone LLC acquired title to the building and its resurrection began.

Described in 1923 as "an ornament and credit to the city," it now is that again. But as the following article suggests, there were several close calls before its return to ornamental status.


Sitting silent and deserted on the corner of the town square, with dusty and broken windows and a padlock on the stately front doors, is the hotel that was once the pride of the community.

Few ghosts of yesteryear linger in the corridors of the Hotel Charitone. Little remains of the days when the elite of Chariton dined in its restaurant; or when weary travelers from across the country stepped from trains to spend the night enjoying Chariton's grandest accommodations.

Gone from the lobby is the old clerk's desk, once manned around the clock to greet guests.

Gone is the dining room where guests and Chariton residents gathered to enjoy fine meals. In its place are several empty dry-walled rooms.

And gone are the ivory and green walls of the guest room hallways and blue carpets on the bedroom floors.

Today threadbare carpeting lines the long corridors, and the bedrooms now have a wild potpourri of different carpets and color schemes. Paint hangs in peeling strips from some walls, and mildew grows on others.

Only a very few of the original fixtures remain in the abandoned rooms. Steel chests of drawers sit askew in a few of the rooms, and many rooms still have closet-like bathrooms, built up a step higher than the rest of the rooms.

Today the Charitone stands empty. A mainstay on the Chariton town square for over 70 years, not only was it once a grand hotel, but over the years it has also housed a number of thriving businesses in the community. Among them were a restaurant, barber shop and apartment houses.

The lot at the corner of Braden and Grand avenues was purchased by W.D. Junkin and Henry F. McCollough, and construction of the building began in February of 1923.

Prior to its construction, the Charitone was dubbed "an ornament and a credit to the city." And for many years, the hotel lived up to all expectations.

The structure was built to last, using about 100 tons of steel, reinforced with concrete and brick. The only wood used in construction is in the doors, window casings and lobby and dining room funiture (this is not true; the roof was wood-frame, as were interior walls).

Even the guest room furniture was made of steel, "which is free from the sagging, warping, cracking and other ills usually fallen heir to by light wooden pieces," according to a 1923 Herald-Patriot article.

The Charitone opened for business in November of 1923, under the management of H.F. McCollough.

There were 75 rooms in the $100,000 four-story building, each equipped with its own telephone and lavatory, unusual luxuries for the time.

In addition, there was a dining room on the main floor, and a barber shop in the basement upon the hotel's opening.

In 1939, the hotel was sold to O.A. Clark, while under the management of Cleo Judd, and it remained in the Clark family until 1971.

Maxine Poush ran the restaurant at the hotel for 22 years, spending six years under the Clarks' management, and sixteen more under a lease.

By the 1970s the Charitone had passed its useful life as a hotel, since the railroads no longer brought travelers to town.

According to a 1992 editorial by John Baldridge, former publisher of the Chariton Newspapers: "Societal changes resulted in motels and inns built to accommodate those traveling by auto, changes which accelerated rapidly after World War II. They translated into steady decline in the Charitone.

The Charitone was purchased by Don Kingsbury and Malon Laing of L&K Insurance Co. in 1971. The annex to the hotel (the building directly east of it) was remodeled for insurance offices.

The hotel lobby was remodeled into a bar called the Captain's Lounge, managed by Rex Benway, who also managed the restaurant, and hotel. Laing and Kingsbury also remodeled several of the rooms into apartments.

Management of the restaurant and lounge was leased to Stan and Lorna Connell by about 1973.

In 1975 the Senior Citizen's Center started serving congregate meals out of the hotel, until the new Senior Center was built in 1979.

When Kingsbury and Laing sold the hotel to Beth and John Rouse in 1975, they kept the annex building.

The Rouses rented both hotel rooms and apartments in the Charitone for several years.

When the congregate meals stopped serving out of the Charitone, the Rouses transformed the dining area of the main floor into apartments, and they refurbished other rooms into apartments as well.

John Rouse operated a barber shop out of the basement, and there was a laundry room for residents there as well.

In 1981, the Rouses sold the hotel to Geneva Loynachan, who defaulted it back to them about two years later.

The bar was gone from the Charitone by the mid-1980ss. And there weren't many residents left by this time, as Chariton had two new apartment complexes for senior citizens.

It was during the 1980s that the hotel gradually declined in appearance and, housing mainly low-income residents, began to be perceived as an eyesore by many in the community.

The Rouses sold the hotel to Vernon Kent in the late 1980s and he then sold the contract on the building to Contract Exchange Corporation in Cedar Rapids.

Kent ran the Charitone as an apartment building from 1988 to 1992, renting up to 25 apartments at its fullest point, and made the former lounge into an apartment.

He put in hardwood doors, and enclosed the stairways, but the building was shut down by the fire marshal in 1992, citing several violations in the Iowa fire code.

Bob Hellyer began some work on the building under a contract in late 1992, but the contract was voided and went back to the Contract Exchange Corporation in the spring of 1993.

The building is currently for sale, and Tony Schubert, of the Contract Exchange, said it is being marked regionally to those who might be interested in restoring it.

"The structure is good, and it has an all-new roof on it," he said. "It's a great building with a lot of potential."

No comments: