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Past, present and future plans for the Frederick

May. 12, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

In 1906, Christmas arrived early for the city of Huntington. It came in the shape of the most elegant and largest hotel that the south had ever seen to date. According to newspaper coverage of the grand opening on Nov. 13, 1906, the only building in West Virginia that occupied more ground space than Huntington's new Hotel Frederick was the State Capitol in Charleston. The hotel occupied nearly the length of a football field along downtown 4th Avenue.

The hotel lobby was once labeled as one of the most beautiful in the United States. Even today, visitors are still treated to the beauty of neoclassical architecture that flourished during the early 1900s. The wide split winding marble staircases that ascend to a large circular opening on the second floor is reminiscent of the ill-fated Titanic. Add the multi colored hues of light beams showering down through a lofty picturesque Tiffany glass rotunda, and visitors quickly understand that this is not your average hotel. Three hundred guest chambers were once decorated with the finest furniture money could buy, many with private bathrooms. There were even sleeping quarters for employees.

The Huntington Herald newspaper article from 1906, concluded with the following: "In every way, in which comfort and the luxuries of modern times can be arranged, will be found in the Hotel Frederick, even to a fine modern Turkish bath."

The Frederick hotel was indeed a trendsetter in the world of amenities in 1906. Containing such luxuries as a spacious well-appointed presidential suite where former President Nixon stayed in 1958, and a magnificent third floor ballroom where Liberace may have played during his stay. There was even a well-stocked tobacco shop in the lobby containing various brands of imported cigars, complete with a shoe shine stand, where Bob Hope may have once added some luster to his shoes. The hotel was also equipped with emergency generators in the basement that are still operational today. Even now, the brick exterior still maintains a pristine appearance because of the special hardening process used at the brick yard in Portsmouth, Ohio.

The present owner of The Frederick, John Hankins, has been engulfed in returning the hotel to a centerpiece of Huntington's prominence since 1999.

"We are currently involved with many improvements of this building that will all provide an economic stimulus boost to this city," said Hankins. "The second and third floors are going to be primary office locations. A mixture of townhouses and apartments are being developed. We currently have around 40 residents living here now. Workers are not only restoring and renovating all over this building, they are busy along 4th Aenue storefront property as well. Many improvements have already been completed on the lobby, even the original shoe shine stand has been restored."

It's been some time now since room rates at the Frederick went for as little as $ 2.50 a night. A building that cost 400,000 to build would now cost millions to replace. The vaudeville actors who came to the Keith-Albee, no longer rush across 4th Avenue to enjoy the hotel comforts between performances. And if the rumors were true about an existing tunnel between the Keith Albee and the basement of the Frederick, Hankins says it hasn't been discovered yet. The third floor ballroom now endures the sounds of silence. But the ground floor ballroom is being renovated.

Despite its age, the Hotel Frederick lobby still contains the elegance and nostalgic grandeur that was once the talk of the town more than 100 years ago. There is still a rich sampling of historic beauty to be seen by those looking for a glimpse into Huntington's past. In fact, the beauty is still such that an occasional wedding is still being performed there. Interested parties considering the Frederick lobby as a wedding reception location, should call Mark Cross at 304-633-4553

The lobby is a history lesson that will fill your senses with everything from old prewar Lionel trains to railway artifices, and more. Railway creamers, Chesapeake and Ohio Railway china, railway passes from the 1920s. A railway schedule of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey circus act. Newspaper headlines from the 1937 flood, antique documents from Huntington's Bradshaw Diel department store. And the center piece of it all, a magnificent ornate fireplace that reaches high above the beautiful chandeliers where large stuffed wild animal heads circle the entire room while keeping watch on visitors.

Down the large hallway towards 10th Street, is a 100-year-old, 25-foot, glass-enclosed pharmacy case from Pennsylvania. The contents of this case is a fascinating display of many products used in pharmacies, households, and prescribed by doctors from generations past. There are old corked pharmacy bottles, tobacco tins, antique whisky bottles, a box of Gilbert rolled oats from Portsmouth, Ohio, more tin toy trains, a glass foot warmer, cigarette packs of unknown brands, antique town documents, razors, soaps and an array of other products that were once household names.

Around the upstairs directly above the lobby, there is an ornate circular steel railing supported by six wood grain steel encased support beams. An array of fine furniture, canvas paintings, beautiful clocks, a portable bar, and a life size mannequin dressed in an authentic New York Central Railway conductor's uniform -- complete right down to his black wing tip shoes.

Who could overlook the 21 Club with a menu to rival any restaurant in Huntington. White tablecloths are still standard, as is the leather lined copper top bar. Beautiful lit paintings still adorn the walls where there is still a hint of the elephants that once ruled the theme.

For those of you who thought that the hotel Frederick would remain dormant when the last guest left in 1971. Know that this building that once garnished the attention as Huntington's center piece of elegance, is ever so slowly being prepped to return to those days of prominence.

Clyde Beal is an area freelance writer looking for a Boy Scout troop involved with a well needed community project. Write him at archie350@frontier.com.

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