Monongahela Hotel

Commercial / Pennsylvania

The abandoned Monongahela Hotel is located in downtown Brownsville, Pennsylvania. In later years, it became Towne House, an apartment complex.


History

The Monongahela House, built as a residence in 1832 and converted to a hotel in 1844, was demolished in 1911. 6 It was replaced by a new hotel near the corner of Market Street and Brownsville Avenue. (It was located on Market Street where the former First National Bank is located at.)

The Monongahela House had been renamed to the Monongahela Hotel by 1920. 6 The ground floor was host to a men’s furnishing store on the west side, a bar on the east side and a lobby in the centre. The bar closed in 1919 due to Prohibition.

By the 1920’s, the hotel had become too small. With approximately 50 rooms, demand for lodging often exceeded supply. 2 The owner, Samuel Leff, needed a larger building. Leff sold the building to the Monongahela National Bank in 1923 who then renovated the facade of the old hotel, replacing the Neoclassical facade of Indiana granite with pairs of Ionic columns and large steel-frame windows. 3

The Monongahela Hotel closed in 1923 and construction promptly began on a new 110-room facility next door, 2 opening at 56 Market Street 1 on March 15, 1925. 2 It also contained a 20 room annexe that was located above the Monongahela National Bank in the old hotel building. The ground floor contained the Coffee Shoppe where food was served at “moderate prices,” and a dining room was located in the rear which could hold 200 patrons. The property also contained a garage for automobiles. All rooms in the new hotel building were furnished with all steel furniture.

The Monongahela Hotel had changed hands by March 1930. 2 To generate income during the Great Depression, the hotel garage’s first and second floors were leased for ten years to Samuel S. Sidle, a Bentleyville merchant who converted the garage into the Sidle Motor Company to sell new Oakland-Pontiac automobiles. The bottom floor was leased to the River Transit Company.

The new income was not enough. A sheriff’s sale was ordered for late December to sell the contents of the Monongahela Hotel, but before it could be held, other creditors took preemptive action. 2 In the end, the hotel was forced to declare bankruptcy in November. It was sold in 1931, and as part of a cost-cutting move, the new owners decided to stop using the annexe above the Monongahela National Bank. The annexe was converted to apartments, reached via the outer lobby of the then closed Monongahela National Bank. 4

The Monongahela Hotel later became a part of Earle Milner Hotels, a chain, with rooms averaging $4 per night. 4 Eventually, business dried up, and the building was purchased at auction by Frank Bock who renamed it the Towne Hotel. It was converted it into an apartment building.

In 1991, the Liggetts acquired approximately 75% of downtown Brownsville’s buildings, including Towne Hotel. 5 The couple promised that the vacant Towne House, Plaza Theater, Brownsville Hospital and nursing school, Union Station and dozens of houses and storefronts would be restored so that downtown would resemble “Williamsburg on the Mon.” Some of the buildings were acquired at tax sales while others were mortgaged or bought out-right.

Bt the mid-1990’s, the Liggetts proposed a floating casino, wharf and marina along the Monongahela River. 5 The state, however, failed to pass measures that would have permitted riverboat gambling, nixing those plans. The Liggetts did little to maintain their buildings throughout, and several of them became serious hazards to the public. The county, on more than one occasion, ordered the Liggetts to pay overdue taxes. The Monongahela Hotel has remained vacant and abandoned since the mid-1990’s.


Sources

  1. Tunney, Glenn. “Completing Our Walking Tour of the Neck.” Rootsweb, 9 Jul. 2005, article.
  2. Tunney, Glenn. “Brownsville’s Biggest Hotel was Built During the Roaring Twenties.” Rootsweb, 1 Jul. 2001, article.
  3. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Brownsville Commercial Historic District. By Norene A. Halvonik, 5 Feb. 1993, article.
  4. Tunney, Glenn. “Changing Times Sealed the Fate of the Monongahela Hotel.” Rootsweb, 22 Jul. 2001, article.
  5. Lash, Cindi. “A Couple’s Vision Turns to Decay in Brownsville.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11 Mar. 2011, pp. A1, A8, A9.