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Prichard Hotel owner aims to restore former glory of building

Oct. 04, 2009 @ 12:00 AM

Editor's note: Huntington's downtown enjoys an usually large number of high-rise buildings from the city's boom days in the teens and '20s. In this series, The Herald-Dispatch examines the rich history of the buildings, how they are used today and the modern challenges they face.

HUNTINGTON -- It was where presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Mass., stayed with his brother, Ted, and other supporters during his 1960 campaign.

It's where other politicians gathered for meetings, where high school seniors came for their proms, and where Huntington residents came for fine dining at The Hunt Club.

The Prichard Hotel has a rich history in Huntington, from its founding as a young Huntington's premier hotel, to its role in Kennedy's history here in the city. But its story has had low points.

Since switching from a hotel to an apartment building around 1970, the Prichard Building's reputation changed from offering classy overnight lodging to offering affordable housing and often making its way into the newspaper's police blotter in recent years. Fires at the Prichard Building also have made headlines, including one as recently as this summer.

Current owner Shane Polan said he's been making efforts to both improve the building and make it safer for residents in terms of fire and crime prevention.

The Hotel Prichard was built in 1926 by Frederick C. Prichard, who also built the Robson-Prichard Building, which was later renamed the Chafin Building and most recently known as the Guaranty Bank Building.

It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Fred Prichard was born March 1, 1871, in Grayson, Ky. He earned a degree in civil engineering from Notre Dame University and after graduation, worked in various jobs in Charleston and later made small fortune in the coal business in Fayette County. It was then that he moved to Huntington where he funded the construction of two of the city's tallest buildings.

Located on the corner of 9th Street and 6th Avenue, the Hotel Prichard was designed by architect Henry Ziegler Dietz of Indianapolis. When the 13-story building opened, it boasted it had "300 rooms" and "300 baths," a rarity at a time when not all hotels had private baths. It also had 14 private dining rooms, a ballroom and a public dining room.

Local historian Jim Casto has a receipt someone kept from a stay at the hotel in 1934. The price: $3.

Prichard lost most of his fortune in the Great Depression and was forced to sell his properties. He moved to Texas to start over in business and returned to Huntington only as a visitor. Prichard died in 1960 and age 89.

Even after he sold the hotel, it had some good years ahead of it.

"The Hotel Prichard was a busy, popular place for many years," said Casto, retired associate editor at The Herald-Dispatch.

"In 1949, cowboy movie star Gene Autry checked in at the Prichard when he brought his show to Huntington to appear at City Hall Auditorium. History offers no clue where Autry's horse Champion stayed."

But a chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs was an honored guest at the Prichard in 1956 when the cast of NBC-TV's "Today" show came to Huntington to broadcast a week of shows, Casto said. The show's entire cast - featuring Dave Garroway, Jack Lescoulie, Lee Ann Merriweather and, of course, J. Fred Muggs - stayed at the Prichard.

Hotel Manager Richard Gibson told The Herald-Dispatch it was the first time a real chimp had stayed at the hotel, Casto said.

"Like all hotels, we've had a lot of the human kind," Gibson said at the time.

In 1960, when John F. Kennedy came to West Virginia to campaign in the state's presidential primary, the Hotel Prichard was where he and his staffers stayed.

It was 1970 when Polan Realty purchased the Prichard and converted it to an office/apartment building, Casto said.

Today, the building has 59 units, primarily with one to three bedrooms, and some efficiencies, Shane Polan said.

"I've got a few empties right now from the fire, but I'm going to say it's 90 percent (occupied)," he said.

The bottom of the building is occupied by a variety of businesses, including two restaurants, the Prichard Sandwich Shop and D.P. Dough's, which sells calzones. Others include a microbiology consulting firm, an art studio, a church, a training facility for martial arts, a court reporting business and a message therapy business.

In the residential portion of the building, Polan said, he's refurbishing the upper-story area damaged in this summer's fire, and is considering adding new units.

"I have plenty of space," he said. "I'm going to say there's a good 40,000 to 50,000 (developable square feet) to this point. When I took the building over five years ago, I've added probably 30 apartments since then."

He's also putting a new roof on part of the building, and trying to upgrade the infrastructure, including the hot water heater.

In terms of fire safety, part of the building now has a sprinkler system, and Polan plans to meet the city's stipulations to make sure the entire building is protected by a sprinkler system within the next 11 years or so. One-third of the building must have sprinklers every four years, under a new city law made after the Emmons Apartment building burned in 2007, killing nine people.

Polan said he's made efforts to rid his building of crime as well.

"In the past, I did have a bit of a drug problem (in the building), but I've gotten rid of most of it," he said. "Some of it can slide in, but I've gotten rid of most of it. It takes time to weed it out. I have to find out who's doing it and get rid of them.

"I think the message has been sent here. Being close to downtown and the (Huntington City) Mission, you get a little bit of trouble around the place at times."

The next big project, he said, is the sprinkler system.

Although old, the building is structurally sound, he said. It was well-built and well-loved over the years, he said.

"When the building was built in 1926, it was really the premier hotel in West Virginia," Polan said. "They held several proms and dances for high schools here. I'll see people my father's age come and say they had their dances here."

Prichard Building

YEAR BUILT: The Hotel Prichard was built in 1926 by Frederick C. Prichard.

ARCHITECTURAL FIRM: Designed by architect Henry Ziegler Dietz of Indianapolis.

SIZE: 13 stories

HISTORY: Originally the Hotel Prichard, which boasted it had "300 rooms" and "300 baths." It also had 14 private dining rooms, a ballroom and a public dining room. It was converted into an apartment building around 1970.

CURRENTLY: Owned by Shane Polan, the building has a mixture of apartments and a variety of businesses, including two restaurants.

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