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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 -- Maybe 20 years ago, Jim Brumfield was browsing through an antique shop in Central City, and he saw a picture he had to have.

It was a faded, wide-angle photograph of the corner of 11th Street and 4th Avenue. In the 1937 photo, the building that now houses his family business, Glenn's Sporting Goods, was surrounded with maybe five feet of water.

Riverwaters that flooded the banks of the Ohio in January 1937 pressed against the light exterior of the structure, the top of its large, arched passageway peeking out.

Brumfield can't remember how much the photograph cost, but not very much. He hung it proudly in his office above his desk, where it remains today.

It's just a reminder of some of the rich history in the building where he works, a building once again called the Coal Exchange Building after some changes in identity over the years.

Today, the building has about 55 percent occupancy and has been up for sale for a couple months. Owner M.A. Ghannam has done renovations to the building and is offering to renovate space for any new tenants that want to lease space there, said Property Manager Robin Clark.

Once bustling with coal company employees, it now needs tenants to fill floors that are completely vacant.

It was built by the Coal Exchange Co. in the mid-1920s and at 14 stories high, it was one of the tallest in the city of Huntington and one of the handsomest in the state, said local historian Jim Casto.

"Elaborately designed, with marble floors and walls in its lobby, it boasted offices that were larger and finer than any others in the city at that time," said Casto, retired associate editor for The Herald-Dispatch. "Not surprisingly, the building rapidly filled with tenants -- doctors, lawyers and, of course, coal companies."

The Coal Exchange Co. was organized by D.C. Schonthal, A. Solof and H.A. Zeller, Casto said. The 1926 Huntington City Directory listed Schonthal as secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia Rail Co., and H.A. Zeller as vice president at the same company. A predecessor of today's Steel of West Virginia, West Virginia Rail was then owned by the Schonthal family, he said. A. Solof had a number of real estate investments in the growing city.

"Taking inflation into account, the $1.2 million the partners reportedly spent erecting the Coal Exchange would translate into nearly $15 million in today's dollars," he said.

Its architects were two men who were busy in Huntington in the early 20th Century, Wilbuer J. Meanor and Edward Handloser.

Their long-running partnership was one of the most productive and successful in the state, Casto said.

"During the years of their partnership, which lasted from 1915 to 1944, they operated offices in both Huntington and Charleston and were responsible for creating some of the finest buildings built in the two cities," he said. "In Huntington, Meanor & Handloser designed the Coal Exchange, the First National Bank Building, the Union National Bank (now known as the West Virginia Building) and Ohev Solom Temple, among many others.

"In Charleston they designed the Diamond Department Store, Sacred Heart High School, the downtown C&P Telephone Company building and others."

According to a previous report in The Herald-Dispatch, the Coal Exchange Bank occupied the ground floor of the building in its early years, but the Depression closed its doors and forced bankruptcy on the building's owners.

The property was sold at auction at the Cabell County Courthouse in about 1933. It is thought that that's when the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway bought the building and housed its engineering department and other offices there.

Brumfield's grandfather worked in the engineering department at C&O at the time the flood hit, Brumfield said.

Kaiser Drug Store once occupied the ground floor, where Glenn's Sporting Goods is today.

"C&O maintained a strong presence in Huntington for decades," said the report, written by Bob Withers, another local historian and a retired writer for The Herald-Dispatch. "After all, the city was created to serve as the railroad's original westernmost terminal.

"But times change, and railroads merge. C&O officers eventually vacated this structure and another downtown building in favor of sunny Jacksonville, Fla., after combining with B&P, WM, L&N, SCL and a veritable alphabet soup of other lines that eventually morphed into CSX Transportation."

By the mid-1970s, the building was known as the Coal Exchange again and was owned by the Polan Realty Corp.

More recently, it changed hands a couple more times. After being owned by a limited partnership for a time, it's now owned by Ghannam, who has owned it for the past three years.

"He put a lot of money into it -- upgrades to the plumbing, bathrooms, modernized elevators, new roof, new heat-exchanger," Clark said.

Glenn's Sporting Goods -- opened by Jim's father, Glenn Brumfield, about 28 years ago -- occupies the ground floor of the building. The store also stretches into the structure next door on 4th Avenue, the Cook Hardware building, Jim Brumfield said.

The Coal Exchange Building has been a great location, Jim Brumfield said. Glenn's has plenty of stockroom in the basement and the mezzanine, he said.

"It's convenient downtown -- nice wide streets," Jim Brumfield said. "For us, it's worked."

Along with Glenn's, the Coal Exchange Building houses a variety of other companies, including Knuckle Sandwich, Kindred Communications radio, the Herd Insider, Greater Huntington Theater Corp., Jenkins Fenstermaker Law Firm, the Marshall University Research Corporation and many others. Kindred also helps run two restaurants out of the building, Fiesta Bravo and Ci Ci's Pizza locations from Morehead to Lexington, Ky., said Kindred's president, Mike Kirtner. Kindred also is part owner of the West Virginia Power baseball team.

Kindred Communications has been there almost three decades, having located there to utilize the rooftop for its radio transmission, Kirtner said. There are now six transmissions coming out of the building, he said.

"There are a lot of historical portions of this building," he said. "There's a high water mark plaque in the lobby that shows how high the water was in the building in the '37 flood. I love history, so it's fun to see that."

Coal Exchange building

YEAR BUILT: The building was built in the mid-1920s by Coal Exchange Co. The Coal Exchange Co. was organized by D.C. Schonthal, A. Solof and H.A. Zeller.

ARCHITECTS: Wilbuer J. Meanor and Edward Handloser built the building. The two were one of the most successful architecture partnerships in the state for that time period.

SIZE: 14 stories

HISTORY: The Coal Exchange Co. was organized by D.C. Schonthal, A. Solof and H.A. Zeller. The Coal Exchange Bank occupied the ground floor of the building in its early years, but the Depression closed its doors and forced bankruptcy on the building's owners.

The property was sold at auction at the Cabell County Courthouse in about 1933. It is thought that that's when the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway bought the building and housed its engineering department and other offices there.

CURRENTLY: Currently, the building has about 55 percent occupancy and has been up for sale for a couple months.

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