Bank renovation turns up hidden treasures

February 08, 2000

Tiffany glassBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

photos: Hedden Inc.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - More than 260 people took advantage of a chance to see a rare treasure in downtown Martinsburg Tuesday - antique stained glass windows that have been covered for decades inside the original Snodgrass Building.

Civic leaders and the architect who is directing the renovation of the historic former Merchants and Farmers Bank building at 131 S. Queen St. pointed out the windows to onlookers during the lunchtime tour.

"What we have here is a treasure. What we've discovered here proves that," said Tracie Ford, executive director of Main Street Martinsburg, which is offering a low-interest loan to help pay for the rehabilitation.


Hedden Inc., a Diamondhead, Miss., firm that has renovated hotels and motels across the country, recently purchased the vacant bank building and a dilapidated, adjacent structure for $185,000. F&M Bank, which took the building over from Merchants and Farmers, occupied the building until about two years ago.

Jerrod Hedden, owner of Hedden Inc., said in an interview that he wants to turn the former bank lobby into the "nicest room west of Washington."

Hedden envisions several possible uses for the building. It could serve as home to a fine restaurant, with a banquet room on the second floor. Or it could be an art gallery or a museum.

Merchants and FarmersHedden said he plans to renovate the adjacent three-story building for upscale apartments and offices.

Ford expressed enthusiasm Tuesday at the prospect of turning a historic but unused building into a magnet for shoppers and businesses. But it was the stained glass windows that drew the crowd.

When the building was constructed in 1908, those windows adorned the roof, flooding the bank lobby with sunlight 30 feet below.

However, for decades - no one knows exactly how long - those windows have been covered. A new roof was placed over top and a plaster ceiling was built underneath.

"When I popped the ceiling tile out, it was breathtaking," Hedden said.

Architect Leland Suddeth of Pentree Inc. also was flabbergasted. He said he suspected the building had been substantially altered when he detected architectural styles from different periods inside and outside.

"I never expected anything like this," he said.

Suddeth said he is virtually certain they are rare Tiffany windows. He will be able to confirm that when workers take the windows down and inspect the signatures on the sides.

Suddeth predicted one of those windows would fetch an opening bid of $200,000 if it were sold at auction.

Antique moldingWorkers will spend the next two weeks carefully removing the brittle windows. They will be cleaned and restored before being put back into place, Suddeth said. Copies will be made to fill four missing panels, he said.

Suddeth said the bank covered the windows with a roof at some point, probably to prevent leaking. A plaster ceiling was placed underneath and the second floor was built.

He said the second floor of the building was added around 1952. For years it served as the bookkeeping office.

Tiffany Arnett, 23, who works at the Martinsburg Boys and Girls Club, said her cousin worked in the F&M Bank bookkeeping office for years.

"She said she worked in this room and never had any idea anything like this was up there," she said.

No one did.

Suddeth said he would prefer to completely remove the second floor to return it to its original design.

"You walked in and looked straight up to the top," he said. "The bank projected an image of power and stability, and this is one of the ways they did it."

Gary Widell, a Shepherdstown, W.Va., railroad consultant who was among those who toured the building, said he is intrigued by the possibilities.

"This sort of thing is exciting. Downtown Martinsburg needs all the help it can get," he said. "I've always thought it had so much potential."

No one knows why the windows were hidden or why they were forgotten, Suddeth said. But he added that many old American buildings were "jazzed up" in the 1950s and 1960s in a bow to modernity.

"This was nothing but yard sale junk to (those who altered the building)," Suddeth said. "Interest in national pride and historical things was not that good."

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