Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Elbow Room --- and more

When Ruth Smith arrived in Chariton to teach during the 1960s, young and single, school teachers were forbidden to patronize bars. When she began to date, however, the Charitone Hotel's Elbow Room, tucked away discreetly on the lowest level, became a popular destination, she recalled --- because it was in the basement and out of sight.

Somehow, after it closed, she obtained the bar's sign --- and that was among the memorabilia, as well as memories, brought to the C.B.&Q. Freight House Thursday evening when 50 or more people gathered to reminisce about the old hotel, currently in the planning phase of a total rehabilitation project.

The Elbow Room's official fare was beer and pizza --- liquor by the drink was not yet legal in Iowa; but some recalled that bottles with names attachd were kept behind the bar and that it could be a lively place, certainly a popular one.

Entrance could be gained down the stairs and down a hall from the Charitone lobby --- or through a sidewalk-level door at the east end of the hotel and down back stairs.

Some had memories of a later and even livelier bar, the Captain's Lounge, inserted into the former Charitone lobby as times changed. Strippers, as well as mixed drinks, were on the menu there.

Nick Hunter, recalling the 1980s snake dances that once were a homecoming tradition, told about the dare that took the young dancers through the Captain's Lounge, causing the stripper disappointingly to scurry for cover. Alyse Hunter denied participation. Ruth Comer declined comment.


Paul Koester, of Koester Construction, as well as Ray Meyer, of Hotel Charitone LLC, provided updates on the recently completed survey and current planning stages of the project.

Although the hotel is structurally sound, Koester (above) reported, the roof is not --- and will be replaced entirely. In addition, a substantial number of fourth-floor facing bricks will have to be removed and relaid because water infiltration has loosened their moorings.

There was some worry about the hotel parapet, which conceals the roof, Koester and his associate said, because it appeared to be leaning slightly inward. Investigation proved, however, that the "lean" was part of the hotel design and that no worries remained about parapet stability.

Meyer (above) used illustrative panels to outline preliminary plans for the interior, which will evolve as as planning continues.

Preliminary plans call for 12 apartments on the hotel's three residential floors --- three two-bedroom apartments and one one-bedroom apartment each. A new elevator will be installed in the existing shaft and the existing stairs up from the lobby restored. A new enclosed stairway will be built at the northeast corner of the hotel to serve as a fire escape.

Preliminary first-floor plans call for restaurant, banquet room and kitchen in roughly their original locations east of the lobby and a bar in the original lobby area of the building's west end. A new entrance primarily for tenants, handicap accessible and with access to the elevator, will be added to the north. Plans call for tenant parking in the open area north of the hotel.


Nearly every aspect of  hotel operations was covered during the public input part of Thursday night's meeting --- from overnight stays to architect William L. Perkins' drainage scheme, the duties and challenges of the wait staff and bellhops, the home cooking turned out in the kitchen, meetings and parties in the banquet room and restaurant and more.

Alan Poush (above) practically grew up in the hotel during the years of Clark family ownership that his mother, Maxine, operated the restaurant and, for a time, managed the entire establishment. He remembered many of the distinctive personalities involved with the hotel --- and walking up daily from the high school for lunch through his junior year at Chariton High School.

Don Kingsbury (above), who in partnership with Mahlon Laing, owned and operated the hotel after it was sold by the Clarks, also was present to share his memories of its operation.

All in all, it was a lively and interactive meeting that everyone who participated seemed to enjoy. Sponors were the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission, Lucas County Arts Council, Lucas County Historical Society and Lucas County Preservation Alliance. And the food was good, too!

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