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Auction set for W.Va. landmark

November 19, 2000

Auction set for W.Va. landmark



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - For many years, it was a grand old hotel with a grand old name.

Rising five stories above the corner of Queen and Martin streets, The Shenandoah Hotel beat as the civic and social heart of the city.

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Built in the 1920s with individuals kicking in a few dollars here and a few dollars there, it became a 100-room hotel, restaurant and ballroom.

"It was a real grass-roots deal," said "Buzz" Poland, whose grandfather Bonn Arthur Poland opened the Dodge franchise in 1915 on the corner of Race and Queen streets and was one of the Shenandoah's original investors - later becoming the majority investor. "It wasn't just a handful of people who came with a bunch of money and then built the hotel. It became the centerpiece of Martinsburg and the community and all the civic meetings were held there."

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Right on the main vehicle route and two blocks from the bustling train station, it was a splendid stopping place for visitors.

The Shenandoah was the best there was in Martinsburg.

Debbie Reynolds stayed there; so did Robert Mitchum who starred in a play at the Apollo Civic Theatre. It had an elevator run by a human being. It had bell hops who would take guests' cars to Poland's nearby garage for storage while they were registered. It had a polished ballroom floor that remains polished to this day.

It was stylish, stately, sophisticated.

"It was really a genteel, elegant, southern existence," said Charlene Power, 64, who lived in the hotel from 1950-53 while her father Bill Standley was resident manager. She moved out after graduating from Martinsburg High School and lives in the city today.

Hanging on Poland's office wall is a picture from the 1950s showing a Western Union office, bus depot and what appears to be a soda or candy shop at the street level. The elder Poland sold it to Gateway Inn in 1967, and the name changed. Likely, age and the new freeway contributed heavily to his decision to sell, his grandson said.

The building remained a hotel until the early 1980s, said Mike Chan, owner of Gateway Peking Restaurant, who took over restaurant operations in 1975.

Today, the restaurant and a mortgage company are the only tenants of the building.

The reason for reflection on the building's past stems from curiosity about its future.

Nov. 28 at noon the building will be auctioned off to the highest bidder by J.G. Cochran Auctioneers. A minimum bid of $180,000 is required, although Tim Luwis, one of a group of family owners, said it appraised at $600,000 in February. Whatever it fetches, the family will take a loss. They paid $359,000 in the late 1980 and have put in a lot to maintain it, he said.

Luwis's father "bought it as an investment in an area that he though would turn around," Luwis said. "He thought of Martinsburg as a positive place to be." When he died, the family decided to unload the financial burden. It's been for sale for about five years." So what will it become? What should it become?

Poland thinks with the redevelopment of the B&O Railroad Roundhouse complex, the return of the Apollo Civic Theatre and other activities, a restored Shenandoah could help revitalize downtown. It might work as a "back office" for groups who lobby in Washington, D.C. and could easily catch the train.

"It would be a class A office complex,' Luwis said.

"I think it would be great as a boutique hotel," said Brenda Casabona, who helped coordinate a recent survey on downtown activities.

The city has looked at buying it, said Mayor George Karos. He thinks it could serve as a "solid anchor" for downtown stores or middle- to upper-income tenants. Luwis said it will take $2.5-$3 million to rehabilitate the building. Karos said the city stands willing to help with tax incentives or other assistance.

"There are all sorts of possibilities" for the building, he said.

And Luwis raised the possibility that what was once old could become new again.

"It may be as the hotel goes, so goes downtown," he said.

And Charlene Power would like to see the old name back on the old building.

"It evokes so many memories," she said.

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