REMEMBERING THE OLD PARKERSBURG CITY BUILDING
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For Early Parkersburg History and Old Pictures
old City Hall Was Victim of the Wrecking Ball one of the best known' Landmarks on the Parkersburg skyline, Fell during 1980. Its, end as the center of city: Government wasn't sudden, but its end as a building was unexpected. By the end of 1973 the days of the old City Hall were numbered. Parkersburg's City Hall, first occupied in October 1897, was found to be unsafe by Rude and Associates, Charleston firm, in a survey completed Nov. 28, 1973. In conclusion, for economic reasons we recommend the building be abandoned, their report said. If historical considerations are overwhelming, it is recommended that the complete interior, including the arches and roof be removed and concrete floors and steel framing be installed.
The report said the building could be restored to limited use for $150,000. Then-Mayor William P. A. Nicely said he preferred a new city building. Fleck and Hickey Architects of La Porte, Ind. were hired to draw plans for a new structure. The first bids on the new Municipal Building project came in $1 million over the city budget. Design changes were made and the project was re-bid. On Nov. 23, 1977, Nicely signed contracts for the construction of the Municipal Building. The Carl E. Stephens Construction Co. of Parkersburg received the $3,303,722 construction contract, and North west Electric Co. of Marietta was awarded the $366,800 electrical contract.
Execution of the contracts ended fear that the city would be unable to meet a deadline of midnight that day for beginning the project in order to keep a $1.6 million federal grant. Immediately after the signing, both contractors moved equipment onto the building site. The Municipal Building was dedicated Oct. 18, 1979, with parades, speeches and fanfare. By the beginning of November all City employees had moved to the new building.
But what about the old building?
The old City Hall was first put up for bids in September 1979. Highland Heights of Vienna submitted the high bid of $52,000 at the bid opening Oct. 9, 1979, and city council accepted their offer. However, then-City Attorney Joseph McFarland later announced the bid was not valid. State law required the building be sold at a public auction. The public auction was set for 11 a. m. March 4. In the meantime, Clarence Moran, State Historic Preservation officer, said his office would be willing to fund 50 percent of an adaptive use study for the old building. IF the prospective buyer for the old City Hall intends to demolish the 1897 structure, Moran said the city as well as the state would suffer a loss.
Parkersburg City Council delayed the auction until April 3. This should have been the time for action to be taken, Moran said. The Wood County Historic Society seemed to back off although they had told me at one time they had the money to match our offer to fund the study, he had said at that time. The Wood-Wirt-Washington Interstate Planning Commission also began to look into plans to turn City Hall into a combination transit terminal and downtown campus for the Parkersburg Community College. Plans for an adaptive use study never got off the ground. Council again delayed the auction until June 18. Many people spoke in favor of restoring the building, but little was actually done when the auction date arrived.
At the auction, City-Hall Development Inc. was the high bidder at $40,000. City council accepted the bid and the deed of transfer was recorded July 16. The corporation, whose owners and officers, with the exception of its president Donald M. O'Rourke, were unidentified, decided to demolish the building. State statutes allow incorporation by one person, often the attorney for the principals, and six months for the disclosure of officers. As a result the identities of the new owners remained a mystery. On Sept. 17, O'Rourke announced that the firm planned to raze the building and to lease the 5th and Market site for parking until plans could be completed for the construction of an office building. On Sept. 24, Secretary of State A. James Manchin said the demolition of the old City Hall by a corporation formed by unidentified persons demonstrated the need for full disclosure of principals forming corporations.
By mid-September, all old blue-prints, water and sewer records, personal property books and property assessment books had been removed from the building. A state archives team visited the building twice and removed all books that they thought would be of value. Mountain State Demolition moved its equipment into place Sept. 16 after the city issued CHD a $25.00 demolition permit. Monongahela Power cut power lines around the building Sept. 17. O'Rourke refused to comment on the demolition, but issued a press release which said: City Hall Development Co. has expended considerable time and money studying the feasibility of refurbishing the existing building for occupancy but has been advised by its experts that such a program is not now, nor will it be in the future, economically feasible. The statement said because of the unstable condition of the roof tiles and other structural elements, the decision has been made to raze the building in the interests of public safety.
Aware that various segments of the local population have an abiding affection for and find historical significance in certain aspects of the old city building, the company has decided to insure that the two most significant artifacts from. the site, the clock and the bell, are preserved for future generations, the release said. the old Howard Tower clock from on top the old City Building is gone forever, from what I can find out it was sold for Scrap, even back in 1980 this clock was worth Several Thousand Dollars but was Scrapped. but the solid brass bell for the clock is in the new city Building it was saved. 84 years of adorning the old city hall bell tower came to an end. the bell was forged by the McShan bell Foundry in Baltimore Md. in 1896 for the E. Howard watch a clock co.
Michael Pauley, a historian with the state Department of History and Culture, said that the fact that the building is on the National Register of Historic Places does not prevent it from being demolished. Pauley said the department has done everything in its power to prevent the building from being demolished. It appears a significant number of Wood County and Parkersburg residents, recognize the importance of the structure, but apparently not enough of them, he said. On Sept. 18th the solid brass city hall bell was removed by a crane from the tower in which it spent 84 years. Most of the actual demolition work, which began Sept. 25, was conducted between 6 p. m. - 2 p. m. during which time portions of 5th Street next to the building were closed to traffic.
but the building did not die in peace. Early on the morning of Sept. 28 fire broke out in the police department section of the building. The fire was confined to the first floor and basement. Firemen were on the scene from 2:17 a. m.-l0:30 a. m. There was little damage since the structure was being demolished. The cause was never ascertained. Demolition continued on schedule. On Nov. 1, the last wall of the building came down. About the same time, a notice of a public meeting, which plans for a temporary parking lot would be reviewed by the Parkersburg Board of Zoning Appeals, was posted.
The board granted the request for the temporary parking lot for 14months. O'Rourke, speaking to the Parkersburg Rotary Club, said the demolition revealed that renovation would not have been structurally possible. Our studies have found that the best use for the site would be construction of an office building and a preliminary design of a seven-story precast concrete and glass structure was made. Such a structure would tie with the other new downtown buildings such as the Municipal Building, PNBS Square and Public Debt, he said.
The proposed office building would have 70,000 square feet of interior space and would cost $4.5 million. In very preliminary plans, the top floor is designated for a restaurant, the ground floor is designated for retail shops and perhaps a restaurant and the other floors would be for office space.
On Dec. 14, O'Rourke identified the two principal stock holders in addition to himself as Dan A. Marshall and Phillip D'Orazio, both local attorneys. He said no city officials were involved in the project.
DEMOLITION THE OLD CITY BUILDING 1980
Parkersburg's old city building opened in 1897 was brought down in dust in 1980
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