The Denouement of Hotel Sterling
Abandoned buildings are fleeting things. Most may not think so, as there is always that abandoned house, or barn, similar thing that seems to have always been there. In truth, part of what makes our work difficult is that when we find a place that we wish to document, we typically need to do so as soon as possible. This is because you never know how long a place has left, be it through decay or bulldozer, everything falls sooner than later. One needed only glace inside the Hotel Sterling to know it has seen far better times than this. In here the flesh has long since been scraped from bone, and whatever remained was left to fester. All the pieces of this once-elegant hotel thought to be of any monetary value are but a distant memory. What greeted us was little more than rotten wood, exposed supports, and crumbling walls. Hardly an end fitting of a place which was once held so dear by the city which now clamored for its demise. In truth, upon our visit, this old hotel was living well beyond of its designated demolition date, which was to have occurred long before, in February of 2012.
It was the summer of 1898 when the Hotel Sterling first opened its 170-plus rooms to the public, sitting upon the bank of the Susquehanna river. In its heyday the hotel was held in quite a high regard by the people of Wilkes-Barre, and was viewed by many as a beacon of the city itself. By the early 1920's, in an attempt to piggy-back on its popularity, a rival hotel opened its doors nearly next-door to the Sterling, its 14 floors towering high above the smaller and older limestone hotel which was now sharing the same block on Market Street. Size did not triumph in this battle however, and by 1927 the Sterling had assimilated the newer hotel, nearly tripling its size in the process. Things kept more-or-less the same for a while, as the hotel enjoyed prosperity, and continued to garner notoriety as a hotel who's class could rival any on the Eastern seaboard. This all began to dissolve shortly after the climax of World War II though, as the hotel's state began to mirror the hardships of the city around it.
Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, like nearly any city, was a city built upon a backbone of industry. The chief export here was a special kind of coal known as Anthracite, harvested from numerous mines which employed many residents of the city. At the closing of the second world war oil and gas were beginning to gain in popularity as a form of heating and energy. With the emergence of these alternative fuels, the demand for coal began to decline, and by 1960 coal mining in the area had all but completely ceased. Hotel Sterling, no longer able to make its way as a true hotel, was turned into low-income residential units. A creeping depression had engulfed Wilkes-Barre at that time, and with it the once-prominent hotel. By its shuttering in 1998 the hotel had come to be an almost unrecognizable shadow of its past self. Eventually, as we mentioned earlier - The remains of the hotel were picked clean, leaving a husk of a building with no realistic future. The one-time gem of the city had now become an eyesore, and silently sat awaiting the executioners axe, quite likely with open arms.
The axe did eventually drop for Hotel Sterling, in late July of 2013. The site today bears no reminder whatsoever of the once grand hotel. If you spend any time there, all you will find is a dirt lot and a square footprint of weedy grass where once the building stood. In this way Hotel Sterling represents a lot more than just itself, it illustrates the ebb and flow of history, the evolution of our usage of land, and what some may refer to as a “disposable society”. We cannot comment on what chain of events led to this hotels fall, but we can say with 100% certainty that it is a shame that it had to come to this.
The old lobby entrance had grown silent.
Second floor view of center lobby.
A mossy field was taking over the upper-most floor.
Where once a grand hotel stood, now grass hardly grows.
This photograph from 1892 shows a horse-drawn carriage with the Hotel Sterling in the background.
View from across the river.