Monday, May 14, 2012

Waldo Hotel, Clarksburg, WV

Front (Western) facade of the Waldo Hotel.

The Waldo Hotel, located in the heart of Clarksburg, WV, was once among the crown jewels of the state.

Mezzanine balcony overlooking lobby.

Designed in the Beaux Arts style, with elegant interior ornamentation, it was in operation for about 90 years before the boards went up.

Blue corridor with intact paint and undamaged carpet.

Some parts of the hotel are still in remarkably good condition.

Upper-floor room demonstrating significant water damage.

Much of the building, however, has suffered significant water damage in a short period of time, and as of February 13, 2009, the Waldo is condemned.

A Brief History of the Waldo

Wealthy socialite and Virginia State Senator Waldo Goff had an estate built in Clarksburg, a city in what was to become West Virgina, in 1839; he named the Neo-Classical mansion "Waldomore".  It was here that his son Nathan Goff was born; Nathan would go on to be Secretary of the Navy under Rutherford B. Hayes, as well as to serve as a U.S. Congressman.  He would be the longest surviving member of the Hayes cabinet, living until 1920.

After retiring from a notable political career as a member of the Republican party, Nathan Goff decided to erect a magnificent hotel in the center of his hometown, in order to increase the prestige of Clarksburg as well as to provide a social center for state Republicans.  He decided to honor his father, who had passed away in 1881, and named the forthcoming structure the Waldo Hotel.

The architect chosen for the project was Harrison Albright, then the State Architect for West Virginia.  Known to Goff through his political affiliations, Albright was something of a risky choice for the job - skilled at municipal architecture and having some experience with more utilitarian projects in the Philadelphia area, he only had a few lavish and ornamental commissions under his belt - though his next hotel after the Waldo would be the celebrated West Baden Springs Hotel in Indiana, which featured the largest free spanning dome in the world at 200' diameter.

Albright designed an elegant Beaux Arts edifice, ornamental but lacking in bombast.  The focus of the interior was on a grand lobby; here, an 11-foot-wide marble staircase led up to a mezzanine level with a wraparound balcony, and a smaller matching staircase completed the journey to the second floor, which featured another wraparound balcony.  Here, ornament was employed in abundance, with every detail carefully considered - from the tiled floors, to the classical gold-and-blue color scheme, to the detailed plasterwork that covered everything from the insets for electrical lighting in the ceiling to the "W" emblems spread throughout.  The remainder of the first-through-second floors was a maze of kitchens, workers' areas, and various meeting rooms, as well as a ballroom.  The remaining floors contained various rooms and suites, some available to the public, and some reserved for those with connections.

With primary construction completed between 1901 and 1904, the hotel soon developed a reputation for luxury, and attracted the wealthy and elite from the region.  As Goff had planned, it became a noted meeting place for Republican politicians and supporters, and this continued even after the deed passed to Goff's sons upon his death.  Guy Goff, who lived in a suite of rooms on the fourth floor of the Waldo, attempted to run a campaign against Herbert Hoover, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

The Lobby

The lobby of the Waldo Hotel is easily the most striking architectural feature of the 108-year-old building; despite some serious neglect, its beauty is still quite evident.

View of lobby from second-floor balcony, depicting ceiling detail and grand staircase.

View of ceiling and balconies from ground floor.

The 11-foot wide grand marble staircase leading to the mezzanine is now blanketed in a mouldering carpet, just as the ornate tiled floor is blanketed in plaster dust.

The peeling paint of the mezzanine balcony reveals many years of color changes as the building was repurposed.

Turning to the right from the previous image allows an idea of the view which greeted hotel patrons mingling on the mezzanine balcony.

View of second-floor balcony, with staircase (right) leading down to mezzanine level.

At the corner of the second-floor balcony, the elegant plaster detailing seen throughout the lobby is evident.

This view of the second-floor balcony shows the level of deterioration that the plasterwork is undergoing due to the ongoing neglect of the Waldo Hotel.

A view down into the lobby from the eastern side of the second-floor balcony.

Decline and Abandonment of the Waldo

The heyday of Clarksburg was in the 1920s and 30s, when many prominent families had settled in the area, manufacturing in the surrounding areas was at its peak, and the city was a hotbed of political action in the State of West Virginia.  But the modest empire built by the Goff family and others was beginning to crumble, and after World War 2, the census numbers stabilized and began to drop.  The city fell into decline, with the population peaking in 1950, and declining in every census since then.  Manufacturing was beginning to flee the area, and residency there was no longer seen as desirable by the elite of the region.  Clarksburg was beginning to take on a feel familiar to cities in the Rust Belt of today, and the Waldo reflected this change.

In the 1950s, the Waldo was converted from a hotel to a longer-term rooming house, and soon, it found its final use as an apartment building.  Over ensuing years, as the economic downslide of Clarksburg continued, the apartments were lower-and-lower rent; because it had been designed as a European style hotel - without a separate water closet for each room - the apartments were not desirable, despite the elegance of the building.  Renters who could afford it preferred their own private bathroom, and so the Waldo was being used as low-income housing by the 1970s.

Towards the end of its tenure as an apartment complex, the tenants were complaining about various maintenance issues, and the deterioration of the building began, even as it was still occupied.  Eventually, in 1994, the decision was made to shut the Waldo down rather than spend the money to make the repairs necessary to keep it going.  Shuttered, the building began to decay more rapidly.

Residential Areas of the Waldo

The third through seventh floors of the Waldo Hotel, originally hotel rooms, were converted for longer-term residential use in the 1950s.  Today, these areas are in various states of decay.

On the top floor, it is possible to see from a decayed kitchen to the side of the building as well as into an adjoining room, thanks to windows placed at a diagonal.

A straight-on view of the same kitchen gives a sense of the level of water damage the property's owners have failed to prevent in recent years.

While the room adjoining the above kitchen is reasonably intact, the room across the hallway - seen here from the former - is beginning to collapse, with some holes in the floor.

A view of the hallway outside of the rooms pictured above.

The attic on the south side of the building has only one finished room, pictured here in a long exposure - to the naked eye, this scene was nearly pitch-black.

A seven-minute exposure illuminates the extremely dark sloped corridor immediately outside the room pictured above.

Even after the conversion to apartments, the grander rooms at the ends of the southern wing maintain some of their luxurious details - such as this tiled fireplace.

Above a similar fireplace, some pencil scratchings from May Day, 1917 are still evident.

Much of the Waldo is carpeted, and in hallways such as this, which have not been hit as hard by the neglect the building has suffered, even the paint on the walls is reasonably intact.

Many of the apartments contained cheaply installed wardrobes such as this one; this particular room also features a window looking out directly at another wall of the building.

Door into an apartment in one of the relatively undamaged portions of the Waldo.

A blue sky above, in combination with light bouncing off of various colored reflectors, gives interesting color casts to many of the rooms now that the artificial light has been shut off.

Despite the decay, the beauty of this building is evident, particularly in undamaged areas such as this large common room.

Some original architectural details have been hidden by more recent construction; here, a lovely piece of molding is hidden behind a fake wooden panel.

This later-period staircase was likely installed between the first and mezzanine floors in order to keep up with fire codes.

It appears that work got underway to remove mouldering carpet at some point in this upper-floor hallway, but was never finished; piles of rolled carpet are found throughout the hall.

After the residential floors are reached via the main staircase or the servants' stairs on the north end of the building, this central staircase connects floors 3-7.

Some of the color and design choices for the apartments are quite interesting.

In another room which has suffered tremendous water damage due to owner neglect, the shell of a fireplace overlooks a pile of fallen plaster which is carpeted in moss and algae, which will speed the destruction of the building along.

There is enough moisture inside the Waldo to maintain various flora, as well as fungus - here, mushrooms have taken root in damp crumbled plaster.

While the superstructure of the Waldo is in great shape, the interior is rapidly deteriorating due to the fact that no money has been put into maintaining it.  Here, water has rotted a doorframe to the point that the door was able to pull free from its hinges and fall.

But despite the damage to some areas of the building, there are other areas which are quite intact.  In these areas, it is possible to see the potential for reuse of this grand historic building.

Some rooms are so undamaged as to almost look ready for new tenants to move in.

Here, a doorway divides a two-room apartment at the end of the southern wing.

The main structural elements in the Waldo are still useable, and with quick action, the building could be saved and repurposed.

But despite the grandeur and beauty of this building, its current owners are making no motion to actually preserve it; it is falling prey to demolition by neglect, like so many historic buildings in America.

If action is not taken to, at the very least, stabilize the building soon, it will likely fall prey to the wrecking ball.

A hallway leads back to a machine room where modern ventilation machinery is in place - the building was completely renovated once, and could be renovated again.

The Present and Future of the Waldo

Abandoned since 1994, various options have been floated for the redevelopment of the Waldo Hotel.  The hotel was briefly owned by the McCabe Land Co., which bought it for the stated purpose of preventing it from being demolished (as reported by Abandoned).  Since then, it has fallen into the hands of the Vandalia Heritage Foundation.  Vandalia, a 501(c)3 non-profit entity, claims the motto: "Economic Revitalization through Historic Preservation".  However, it is quite clear that the economics trump historic preservation with this group - there was absolutely no evidence that any serious effort had been made to fix up the property in the decade-plus the building has been owned by Vandalia.

Had, at the very least, roofing repairs and mothballing occurred in 2001 when the deed was transferred, the building would be in much better shape and cost much less to restore.  Now, the "preservation" group is claiming that they don't have the money to save the Waldo, despite $100K in preservation funding from the State of West Virginia and the fact that they had the ability to go in to collect scrap metal to sell.  After getting nowhere towards preservation despite years of ownership, the Waldo Hotel was officially condemned on February 13, 2009.  Although Vandalia was granted an extension in order to allow them to get their house in order - as it were - the only work that appears to have been done on the Waldo is the removal of further metal to sell for scrap.  The building is still incredibly humid, and nothing has been done to fix the roof or to stabilize the structure.

The future of the building is unclear, but things do not look good for this grand piece of the Goff legacy.  Locals, tired of seeing a dilapidated eyesore, are pushing for demolition.  There are no publicly posted plans which include Vandalia transferring the property to another entity with the resources and know-how to rehabilitate it.  Although a site visit - and the photos taken during this visit - make it clear that the building is an ideal candidate for adaptive reuse, there don't seem to be any motions being made in this direction.  Meanwhile, the water is still creeping in.

A tiny diagonal hallway connects the southern wing of the building with the main corridor.

Significant water damage has caused most of the plaster to collapse in this apartment; still, the superstructure remains intact and the floors traversable.

An interior room - nearly pitch black to the naked eye - demonstrates water damage to plaster, as well as various algae and molds which have grown on the damp drywall partition at left.

The future of the Waldo Hotel is currently hidden in murky shadow.

As always, I would like to invite any of my readers who are in the know about this building's future - or anybody who's lived here or has a personal connection - to reach out to me through my email address, or to leave a comment below.