Cumberland Times-News

July 30, 2013

Just save it

We love our old and obsolete buildings

Cumberland Times-News

— Americans, for whatever reason, have a devotion to preserving old buildings that have outlived their original purpose and are in peril of being subjected to the wrecking ball.

We who live in this area certainly are no strangers to this phenomenon.

Witness the the Queen City Hotel, a once-magnificent structure that was just over a century old when it was demolished. Built as a B&O Railroad station, it made way for a much smaller and far less fancy Amtrak station.

Periodically, someone will mention what a shame it was — more than that, a crime! — that the hotel was lost. We remember being in it some years before it was torn down, and feeling anxious to leave before it collapsed around our ears — so dilapidated was the place. Its condition was the result of years of poor maintenance and decades of pounding by vibrations from railroad traffic.

A similar fuss has surrounded the Footer Dye Works and the now-demolished “sawtooth” building (which was a disaster waiting to happen).

Some people want to save the Footer building for reasons that escape other people. However, it has been designated a historic property and therefore is immune to demolition. It is apt to stay that way. The cost of maintaining it by fixing the roof and stabilizing the numerous windows has proven considerable; a “money pit,” if you like.

Some years ago, officials in Lonaconing wanted to tear down a large firetrap of a building that somehow had found its way onto a historic register. Reason eventually prevailed and it came down, to the relief of most — if not all — in the town.

A similar brouhaha may accompany plans to raze Memorial Hospital and its medical building. Attempts to find a developer for the facility or a sufficient number of tenants to support it apparently have failed.

Old hospitals have this in common with old schools and old banks: They were designed and built specifically to be hospitals, schools and banks. Remodeling and repurposing them can be an expensive challenge.

A new use was found for the old Potomac Valley Hospital in Keyser, W.Va., which was taken over by Potomac State College for use as student housing.The biggest drawback for the old Memorial Hospital may be its sheer size. The former Keyser hospital was miniscule, in comparison.

We suspect that the land left vacant by the demolition of Memorial Hospital and its annexes will prove far more desirable to developers than the old buildings that occupied it.