Historic Girard Hotel, an Erie County landmark, set for demolition
- Efforts by its most recent owners to raise money to restore the building fell short
- DRS of Erie County will remove asbestos from the building and demolish it at a cost of $37,000
GIRARD — Behind its red brick walls and boarded windows, the Girard Hotel is littered with trash, the shattered fragments of a fallen plaster ceiling, dingy yellowed mattresses and stained box springs.
There are cases of empty Budweiser bottles and kids’ clothing strewn about. There are overturned upholstered armchairs and stacks of rusted metal seats. On the first floor, a box of CDs is covered in dust and building debris. On the second, it’s a warped, brittle box of damaged vinyl records — 45s in their paper sleeves, heaped onto each other.
A Rolling Stone magazine from 2004 is in one room, and a poster-size 1987-1988 Pittsburgh Steelers schedule is in the next.
“She was a grand old dame in her day,” says Christie Mahany, the executive director of the building’s temporary owner, the Erie County Land Bank.
Historic building:Girard Hotel to be demolished
A layer of blight now blankets whatever beauty might remain of the building at West Main Street and Rice Avenue in the borough.
That’s why this year — perhaps this summer — the old hotel is coming down.
On June 9, DRS of Erie County won the contract to remove asbestos from the building and demolish it at a cost of $37,000.
Built between 1855 and 1870, the Girard Hotel was open for more than 100 years before all but its bar closed. For the past two decades, though, the building has been vacant.
Efforts by its most recent owners to raise money to restore the building fell short. The Erie County Land Bank got involved last year, agreeing to take possession of the property.
Attempt to preserve:Owner hopes to crowdfund Girard Hotel restoration
In the 1950s, travelers stopped using Route 20, which is Main Street in the borough. Interstate 90 was completed in Pennsylvania by 1960.
“So it was no longer really used as a hotel,” Girard Borough Manager Rob Stubenbort said, “And then there was a fire and it burned off the top part of the building, which was a mansard roof, and that was not replaced, but the bar stayed open into the ’90s from what I understand.
“Then it just went into a state of neglect where the bar closed, there was nobody using it and the roof started leaking,” he said. “It wasn’t getting any attention and the water was pouring into the building. A lot of the second floor was rotted and so the borough realized that we had to do something.”
Borough officials encouraged owners to turn over the 10,000-square-foot building to the land bank, which is funded annually by $1 million in casino gaming revenue and a $14 fee on all property transfers in the county.
The land bank acquires properties through donations or judicial tax sales, removes them of all liens and either demolishes or rehabilitates them and transfers them to a new owner, someone who will put the property back into productive use.
Once the hotel is down, the property will be given to the borough, which plans to subdivide the lot so that one portion can be used to widen and establish a new turning lane on West Main Street to Rice Avenue.
“There is a sidewalk on two sides, both the Main Street side and the Rice Avenue side,” Stubenbort said. “Often the semis have to get up on the sidewalk in order to make their way around that corner. It’s very tight.”
Plans for the rest of the property include constructing a small monument to mark the historical significance of the site using bricks from the hotel.
The Girard Hotel was built during the Civil War era to replace a wooden structure that had burned.
According to Preservation Erie and Erie Times-News archives, Dan Rice, Girard’s famed and celebrated circus owner, frequented the bar in the hotel.
Rice, “upon being kicked out one day, … returned with his circus lion to scare folks away so that he could drink in peace,” according to Preservation Erie, which aims to preserve the historic, built landscape of Erie County and the region.
Since acquiring the building, the Erie County Land Bank has worked with Habitat for Humanity to remove any fixtures or other salvageable materials that can be put back into the community. It’s also opened the building for police and firefighter training, Mahany said.
“It’s like the old analogy of using both parts of an orange,” she said. “We’re using the rind and we’re using the pulp. That’s what we’re trying to do when we’re taking a building, especially like this, down.”
More online: See more photos at www.bit.ly/GirardHotel