Some would say 1922 was a good year for entertainment in Charleston, West Virginia. The Kanawha Players were established, bringing local live theatre to the area’s residents. For entertainment on the big screen, the West Side saw the opening of its first movie theatre, the 635-seat Grand Theater. Located on the first floor of the Staats Hospital Building, it was flanked by a confectionary and an ice cream parlor.
The cornerstone of the Elk River business district, the Staats Hospital Building was opened in 1922. It was a multi-function, four story building. The Glendale Lodge of the Knights of Pythias occupied the third and fourth floors. The fourth floor was primarily an open floor plan auditorium with a vaulted ceiling where meetings of the order were held. In existence since the Civil War, they adhered to a code of strict morality, absolute truthfulness, honor and integrity. A portion of the third floor housed a reading room, and billiard and pool room, kitchen, serving room and banquet room. A cigar counter was also located there.
The structure was designed by John C. Norman, West Virginia’s first registered African American architect. Commissioned by the Staats brothers, the Staats Hospital Building features zinc columns, and reliefs of Damon and Pythias on the exterior facade .
Prior to the hospital opening in 1923, in addition to the theatre and other small shops, the first floor housed an A&P grocery store, and was a temporary location for Kelley’s Department Store. The second floor housed business offices. Dr. Harlan Staats, an owner of the building and member of the Knights of Pythias, took over the second and third floors as a 67-bed hospital.
In 1941, the Glendale Lodge of the Knights of Pythias moved out of the Staats Hospital Building. The hospital continued to serve the West Side and surrounding areas until the early 1980’s. St. Francis Hospital opened the St. Francis West Health Care facility and offices. After St. Francis vacated the building, by 2010 a single doctor was left as the buildings only occupant, utilizing only the first floor. The other floors fell into disrepair. The roof leaked. Any metal had been removed for salvage
In the early 2000’s, the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority (CURA) gave permission for the building to be razed. But by 2012, the Staats Hospital Building was placed on the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia’s Endangered Properties List. Purchased by local developers, a public/private partnership was established between the owners, CURA, a loan from the First State Bank of Charleston, a grant from the West Virginia Historic Preservation Office, and another from CURA earmarked to restore the roof.
Years of neglect had rendered the jewel of the West Side a dilapidated shell of a building. The structure itself was sound, but the interior was in shambles. The restoration project began with clearing years of trash and repairing water damage. The tin ceilings were to be restored, graffiti removed, windows replaced and generally restoring the Staats Hospital Building to its former glory.
Once slated to become a parking lot, the building continues to anchor the West Side business district, which is experiencing a revival as a thriving business destination.
On Charleston’s north hill, the Spring Hill Cemetery is a silent sentry. Looking back visits there next month.
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