Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hotel Charitone: Inside Out

We're all getting a little anxious, now that it's coming, to see activity in and around the Hotel Charitone, that landmark on the northeast corner of the square that will be renewed, restored, redeveloped and returned to life staring this summer.

But thanks to Ray, I had a chance to poke around all five floors (basement to 4th) on my own Tuesday, just to see what was there before work begins. He had to get back to the office. I held onto the heavy-duty padlock that fastens the chain that adds extra security to the front door. Right now, the Charitone's an interesting place to visit, but you wouldn't want to get locked in.

And it is the Hotel Charitone, by the way --- not the Charitone Hotel. I know that seems picky and there was some discussion of this the other day on a Chariton-related Facebook page I patronize. But it's been Hotel Charitone from the beginning, back in 1923, perhaps because its builders decided that sequence of names added class.

The photos here are of the former lobby, up top from the northwest corner looking past a barber chair that came up from the basement toward the front door; looking northwest toward the stairway and elevator shaft in the second photo; and from east to west past the front door in the third.

The stairs up to the front door are in a recess on the south facade of the building, which accounts for the brick box in which the front doors are located.

This is the area where we gathered recently to hear the announcement that Hy-Vee had committed $1.6 million and the Vredenburg Foundation $500,000 more to launch to restoration project. As is case throughout the building, all interior partitions, plaster and trim have been removed, leaving large open spaces from top to bottom. This happened in two phases years ago, the gutting process beginning with the furniture store that occupied the building after it ceased to be residential and continuing with an earlier redevelopment project that foundered.

The original ceramic tile floors remain on the first floor, however, partially covered with the dried but removable glue used to secure carpet many years ago. These are the lobby tiles, with shadows cast by the area's wonderful fan-lighted windows. Those windows announced, inside and out, that "this is the most important room in the building!"

The restaurant, party room and kitchens filled the east end of the first floor, lighted by more conventional flat-topped windows. The tile floor remains here, too, under a coat of glue, wrapped around the plainer flooring of the kitchen. The exterior door into the restaurant is at the immediate right here, with later plywood covering the interior steps that led down to the street-level entrance.

All the windows in the basement are boarded up, so any shooting down down here was done blind because it was very dark, but the area is high and for the most part dry --- at least in the western portion not affected by roof and drainage issues that for several years have allowed water to enter the east end of the building and percolate down.

This is the south end of the former barbershop area, a big room that could be accessed either from the lobby or via an exterior stairway. I vaguely remember being down here at least once with my dad to get a haircut before the shop moved to the south side of the square. The floor here is cereamic tile, too, although the tile are very small and not evident here.

Because the areas have been gutted, there's little to distinguish the second from the third floor, although someone --- apparently fearing confusion --- has spray-painted numerical designations on the walls of each, visible from the stair.

The staircase climbs in easy double flights alongside the elevator shaft from top to bottom of the Charitone. It is in very good condition, metal with wooden treads. The hotel's builders trumpeted its "fireproof" nature back in the 1920s, which wasn't exactly the case --- room partitions throughout were of frame construction and trim --- but as much of the building as possible at that time was steel, concrete and masonry. Even the original hotel furniture was metal. Although that doesn't sound very attractive now, it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

It's also possible on the upper floors to see the footprints of former hotel rooms, outlines on the concrete floor indicating where partitions once stood. Keep in mind, hotel rooms in 1925 as a rule did not have private baths. This is a smaller room at the rear on the fourth floor.

Here's the east end of the fourth floor, where water infiltration has caused the greatest damage. The Hotel Charitone's roof is pitched from west to east, something not evident from the street where a parapet conceals it. That, combined with the fact previous recent owners did not deal with roof issues, has resulted in major leaks here at the "pooling" end. Water also has infiltrated upper courses of the masonry walls at the buidling's southeast corner, loosing a section of facing brick.

Well, there are other photos that could be posted, but I'm running late. So it's time to head back downstairs and into the lobby again. I really like that tile floor and am anxious to see how the architect and decorators deal with it. There were some fairly awful floral drapes in the lobby as late as the 1960s and a flock of bamboo furniture. I sure hope .... Well, it's a little early to be offering decorating advice.


Pete Remster said...

I well remember going into the basement from the exterior stairwell to get my haircut, and the small black fellow who shined shoes there. Seemed like a "big city" salon to me then! Must have been about 1935-35, and the hotel was a very big deal then! Thanks a lot for the memories!
Pete Remster

Anonymous said...

My heartfelt thanks to HyVee, Inc. and the Vredenburg Foundation for giving so generously the monies needed to kickstart the Hotel's comeback! It was one of Judge Bill Stuart's wishes to see this wonderful landmark revived, and he would be so pleased today.
Tricia Combs Vredenburg