'It's Got Good Bones:' Preservationists Look To Save Old Peoria Hotel

Published: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 - 7:31am
Updated: Monday, March 27, 2017 - 2:09pm
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(Photo by Casey Kuhn - KJZZ)
The old Edwards Hotel is 99 years old.
(Photo by Casey Kuhn - KJZZ)
Lauren Allsopp chairs the Peoria Historic Preservation Commission.
(Courtesy Lauren Allsopp)
A view of the hotel in the past. It is the building on the right.

Peoria is working on cleaning up the city by helping remove or fix buildings considered neighborhood blights. But on that list is a nearly century-old structure, and preservationists are hoping to save it from destruction.

"Yep, this looks like original hardware," said Lauren Allsopp. She chairs the Peoria Historic Preservation Commission.

Allsopp walks down the creaky stairs of the old Edwards Hotel in Peoria, showing the original features of the three-story building.

She points up through a part of the broken ceiling looking into the hardy beams that have kept the roof steady since 1918.

“Right here, this picture alone is sort of cool." Allsopp said. "You can see the original sheathing, the rock wool, you can see where the lath actually hit the stud it was nailed to.”

Allsopp is passionate about little details most people wouldn’t notice, like interesting old wiring — which doesn’t work, by the way.

“No you shouldn’t save the knob and tube wiring, but it’s fun to think that it was still there," Allsopp said. "It shows you what the evolution of the building is.”

The building itself is pretty unattractive, to say the least. It’s a dusty, dirty stucco, with strangely tall arches. A flat overhang bisects the peaked roof.

But local preservationist Roger Brevoort said the hotel design, as it looks now, isn’t meant to be preserved.

“Admittedly it’s deteriorated, bedraggled, it’s been fenced for five years, but the earlier version of the building would actually become a community asset. And that’s really the ultimate goal,” Brevoort said.

Brevoort is working with Allsopp to open the dialogue between the building’s owner and the city.

He said the building wasn't on any preservationist's radar until Peoria officials ordered a demolition and the owner pulled the permit three weeks ago. That’s part of the city’s program to tear down dilapidated eyesores.

It’s not hard to see why they would want to get it off the city landscape – it’s out of place next to a city park and down the street from a brand-new shopping area.

“We do listen to the city, meaning their concern over safety, and it’s a visual blight,” Allsopp said.

The city’s report said the building is unsafe because of asbestos and water-damaged floors. But Allsopp said when she gave it a walkthrough, she didn’t see un-recoverable damage.

After meeting with city officials this week, Allsopp said they gave her nine days to secure the services of a structural engineer to potentially get it on a historic register and possibly save it from demolition.

But Brevoort thinks the area’s potential lends itself to more than just keeping the hotel intact.

“This is all part of a node that could really be the core of historic Peoria, if you will," he said. "And it’s been proven all over the country and all over the state that the historic core has economic development potential.”

He pictures a retail area in the vacant lot between the new shopping area and the old hotel. It would give the hotel new life as maybe a visitors center – or something more whimsical, like an ice cream shop.

“It’s about utilizing something that’s well-built and incorporating it into the revitalization," Allsopp said. "Let it be a nice anchor to moving forward.”

While the building isn’t impressive at first glance, after getting the grand tour from Allsopp, you can start to see why she speaks so passionately about something like wooden beams.

This building has sat vacant, with open-air windows facing the elements, for 20 years. That’s 20 years of monsoons, haboobs and harsh Arizona sun.

And it still stands strong and tall.

“It doesn’t have to be, tear it down and start again," Allsopp said. "And build it higher and have no flavor.”

As Allsopp said – the old Edwards Hotel’s got good bones.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to clarify the city's correct demolition process.

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