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.