a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A town hotel is just a memory

It isn’t the trolley car that catches my attention in this old photograph of another era in downtown Charleroi, Pa.

The art-deco façade of Hotel Charleroi jumps out of the image, sparking memories of better times in what was once one of the most prosperous retail districts in Pennsylvania.

When I was a kid, our family made regular trips to the hotel dining room when dad had a few bucks left in his pocket on his paydays at Page Steel and Wire Co. in neighboring Monessen.

His good friends, Ed and Eunice Hank, ran the place after they got out of the butcher shop business in North Charleroi. It also was a big deal at the time to be seen in this hotel at the intersection of Fifth Street and McKean Avenue in the vicinity of shoe shops and fine clothing stores.

When you walked in the door, there was a well lit bar hugging the wall to the immediate right. It seemed there was always a craggy woman who had one too many drinks sitting at a bar stool. Further ahead was the lunch counter and an expansive door that opened to the large dining room. Popular items on the menu in the 1960s were the shrimp dinner, and a hot turkey sandwich between two thin slices of Wonder Bread drenched in gravy.

The upper floors remained true to the hotel’s Victorian redbrick construction style, reached by a grand oak stairway hidden from view by a odd remodeling project. By the 1970s, the rooms had been rented too often to drunks, drug addicts or prostitutes.

That was before a fire turned the building into a parking lot, leaving the town without one of its central hotels that helped to give it a sense of place.

(Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Trolley Museum)

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