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Aracoma fire has 'heavy impact'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A day after the historic Aracoma Hotel was severely damaged by fire, Logan officials and residents had the same word to describe the effect it will have on the town.

"Devastating."

"It's a huge loss," Logan Mayor Serafino Nolletti said. "It's a landmark here. It's going to be a really heavy impact to lose a building like this."

The state Fire Marshal's office has yet to determine a cause, but arson is not suspected. Investigators believe the fire was accidental, the mayor said.

About 50 people, who included both short-term hotel guests and residents, were staying in the historic hotel when the fire broke out around 8 p.m. Monday. Emergency shelters were set up for displaced residents. One firefighter suffered a minor injury.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control around 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Michael Honaker, owner of Honaker Funeral Home, which sits next door to the now-burned out structure, said it is difficult to imagine downtown Logan without the Aracoma.

"I've lived right across the street from it since 1966," Honaker, 51, said. "There was a lot of history there in that hotel."

Honaker said he has fond memories of buying soda and candy from the lobby store as a child.

As an adult, the hotel was good for business, he said.

When people came from out of town for a loved one's funeral, they had an affordable night's stay right next door, he said.

"It helped feed a lot of business owners here," he said. "It's just going to be devastating for us."

To make matters worse, the town is about to lose its only other hotel, according to the mayor.

He said a stream-widening project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will result in the town's Super 8 Motel being torn down as well.

"We'll lose all of our hotel/motel taxes," he said. "There are other hotels in the county, but not in the city."

Under the headline "GREAT HOTEL TO BE BUILT IN CITY," an article published in the Logan Democrat on Aug. 3, 1916, announced plans to break ground on the then-unnamed Aracoma.

"It will be the largest and most expensive building in Logan County, and its construction will mark another epoch in the development of the Guyan Valley," the writer of the article said.

"(The Aracoma) is expected to compare favorably with any in the state in the elaborateness of the design and its convenient arrangement and accommodations."

The article boasted that all of the hotel's 94 bedrooms would be "supplied with hot and cold water and more than half of them with private baths, including in most instances, shower baths."

The article also estimated the cost of the construction at "well in excess of $50,000." An article published on May 2, 1918, just before the hotel opened to the public, placed the value of the building and the property at about $130,000.

"The lobby with its tile floor, elegant desk, massive pillars, large log fire place, broad stairway, large and numerous windows, well harmonized drapery and beautiful electric lights is as attractive as may be found in a long journey," the article said.

The four-story brick building was built in the "Richardson Romanesque" architectural style, according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia.

It also was one of the first buildings in the state to have electric elevators.

Designed and built by Syrian immigrant Harvey Ghiz, the Aracoma was the largest downtown building erected during the wave of "fireproof" construction that followed the Great Logan Fire of 1912, according to the encyclopedia.

Ironically, the building was gutted by fire 92 years later.

Nolletti said the upper floor collapsed after the blaze Monday night and the lower floors suffered severe water and smoke damage.

"The building is of fireproof construction throughout, and to insure safety and ease of mind to the guests, there is an abundant supply of fire extinguishers and fire hoses," the 1918 article stated.

"It will probably cost more to fix it than to tear it down," Nolletti said.

 Although it was considered resplendent when it opened, the hotel had its share of unhappy visitors in recent years.

Visitor reviews posted on websites like TripAdvisor.com describe the hotel's accommodations in recent years as "dusty," "raggedy" and "old." One reviewer even said his bed sheets were stained with what appeared to be blood.

One reviewer simply posted, "Do not stay here," in capital letters.

Of the many posts on the website, one reviewer described her stay at the Aracoma positively.

"The room was definitely on par with a national chain, but with the unique flavor of an older, locally owned hotel," the reviewer wrote last year.

The hotel was probably never more in the spotlight than in 1960 when then-Sen. John F. Kennedy spent the night there while on the presidential campaign trail.

Kennedy's stay in Logan is now something of a legend.

In May, Nolletti celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the 1960 election by renaming the county courthouse plaza "Kennedy Square."

For the celebration, the public was welcomed to the Aracoma to watch Kennedy-related films.  

"It was part of our history," Nolletti said of the hotel. "It meant a lot to a lot of people."

Joe Geiger, director of archives for the state Division of Culture and History, provided the Daily Mail with the historical articles cited in this report.

Contact writer Billy Wolfe at billy.wolfe@dailymail.com or 304-348-4843.


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