The Sterling Hotel

hotel-sterling-image

The United States Motion Picture Corporation film His Neglected Wife, produced about 1918, is set at Wilkes-Barre’s Hotel Sterling.

As I walked down North River Street with friends on the day that I first arrived in Wilkes-Barre, I came across a massive decrepit building. I looked up and thought to myself, “How someone could let such an amazing building become so worn is astonishing.” I enquired about what the building was and on finding out that it was the “famous Hotel Sterling,” I wondered if it was another victim of the recent recession that had hit most of the western world pretty hard.

Coming from a modern European city like Belfast, I am not used to seeing old fashioned hotels like the Sterling. Most of the hotels in urban Belfast are built with a modern feel. But when I look at the Sterling, even in today’s condition, it looks like it was a classy establishment, the kind of hotel where the staff would be proud to tell people that they work there, a place where the guests would know that they were living in luxury. The whole place oozes class.

After my first day explorations, though, I forgot all about the hotel and went about my business as a study abroad student. It wasn’t until Dr. Noreen O’Connor showed us the silent film His Neglected Wife that I thought about the old building again.

The hotel plays a big part in His Neglected Wife, a one-reel comedy that was filmed in Wilkes-Barre about 1918. In the film, the leading lady runs away from her husband, who tended to favour his career over her needs, and finds herself escaping to the Hotel Sterling.

After watching His Neglected Wife I decided to look into the hotel a little bit more. I didn’t have to look far in order to find out some information about one of Wilkes-Barre’s famous landmarks. A quick internet search helped me discover how well-thought-of the Sterling was in the local community. There were protest pages and others just showing support for the historical building. The people of the city realize how important the hotel was during the twentieth century. People look at the building with a sense of pride and it’s obvious that a lot of people would snap it up in a heartbeat and rebuild it to its former glory if they had the money to.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, money just isn’t readily available for historical restorations on such a massive scale. The Sterling now seems to have been condemned to be demolished despite the local protests. Groups have tried to encourage investors to take over the burden of reinventing the hotel and it nearly happened just a few years ago when the non-profit organisation CityVest planned to restore the original Sterling building and reopen to the public. However the plan fell through once it became clear how much of a mammoth task they faced. After it became clear that their restoration was impossible the group decided that the best option for the building would be to demolish it.

More research showed that the hotel was used by lots of famous politicians over the years. The most famous of the hotel’s guests has to President John F Kennedy, who stayed there during the early 1960’s. This is very impressive to someone from Northern Ireland because JFK is perhaps the most famous modern day (to an extent) president and throughout Europe most people are aware of his presidential tenure and of course his tragic fate.

It seems now though that the Hotel Sterling has been condemned to a similar fate as that of the late President Kennedy. It is expected to be demolished in the near future and then it will be alive only in the memories of those who stayed there or the people of Wilkes-Barre. It will however be written into the history books as one of the city’s famous landmarks and going by the general consensus around the King’s College campus and even the city as a whole, the day that the Hotel Sterling is knocked down will be the end of an era and the look of the Susquehanna River front will be changed forever.

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Our Big Mistake

The ghostly Truth (Belle Bennett) rides through a gate in Flesh and Spirit (1922). The only surviving film of the United States Moving Picture Corporation, it was not produced in Wilkes-Barre as originally thought

By Dale Lockhart

This week has been full of ups and downs for our project. It turns out that we may have been mistaken in thinking that Flesh and Spirit was produced by the United States Motion Picture Corporation in Wilkes-Barre. During a recent group meeting we met up with local historian Charles Petrillo who has coincidentally been researching the same movies made in Wilkes-Barre as we have.

Charles Petrillo met up with us and gave us some astonishing information on the USMPC. It turns out that there were two of them! The United States Moving Picture Corporation also produced films around the same time as the United States Motion Picture Corporation.

It seems that after World War One, the Black Diamond comedies, supported by Paramount, ceased to exist and were replaced by Rainbow Comedies. It seems that without Paramount’s backing the Rainbow comedies were independently produced and released by the United States Motion Picture Corporation.

Charles explained to us that there were thirty eight Rainbow comedies produced between 1918, when the Great War ended, and 1920. However, Flesh and Spirit was not released until 1922 and until now it was thought that the Moving Picture Corporation and the Motion Picture Corporation were actually the same company. Petrillo researched this and found that they are actually completely different companies. The United States Moving Pictures Corporation were a Delaware company. and Petrillo believes their production studio was in the Washington, D.C. or Delaware area. This means that, sadly, Flesh and Spirit was not actually filmed in Wilkes-Barre as first thought.

This isn’t getting us too downhearted though as Petrillo also told us about a foundation that he found out about and helped contribute to, which restored silent American films found in New Zealand. He was able to show us another movie, His Neglected Wife, which was shot and produced in Wilkes-Barre.

The local lawyer-turned-historian then went on to tell us about what eventually happened to the United States Motion Picture Corporation. His research shows that the company went bankrupt in 1920. The studio was used for one movie by another company who leased the studio off the USMPC named, the Serico Production Company. The studio was then seized by the bank and, according to records; the building was razed in 1934.

This knowledge that Charles Petrillo shared with us is invaluable in our project to raise awareness for local silent films and we were amazed that someone else was researching the same topic as us. Although it seems that our main subject movie Flesh and Spirit was made in Delaware rather than North East Pennsylvania we our still more than happy that we keep finding out more and more about the United States Motion Picture Corporation.