It’s a plain building. Two levels of no-fuss rooms housed mostly railroad workers until the early ’70s when transients and prostitutes took over. The old hotel emptied quickly in 1974, when a young man was shot and killed inside.
It sat empty for a year, until a small group of volunteers resurrected it as The Old Hotel Art Gallery.
And on Saturday, volunteers and neighbors are throwing the hotel-turned-gallery a 100th birthday party.
“We are looking forward to getting some families in here,” said Sally Laufer, director of the Old Hotel Art Gallery. “We are going to have food and face painting and live music; it’s going to be a great party.”
Artists from all over the state exhibit and sell photos, pottery, paintings and drawings in The Old Hotel, which also has an old interpretive caboose parked out back, a classroom for children’s arts classes and a small café.
It’s not so much revenue from art sales as it is the dedication of volunteers that’s keeping The Old Hotel going. The quirky building has come a long way from what it looked like in 1975 when a group of Othello art supporters formed The Old Hotel Corp. and purchased the hotel for about $6,000 – essentially back taxes and attorney fees.
Joyce Lund was part of that original group and today, almost 40 years later, she is still on the board of The Old Hotel Gallery.
“When we first saw it, it was terrible and it smelled so bad,” Lund said. “If we had known what we were getting into at the time, then I’m not sure we would have done it.” Back in 1975, The Old Hotel was full of trash – old mattresses, dirty clothes and pieces of furniture had been left behind by squatters and transients. And someone had kept pigs in the basement.
“We had to shovel things out of here,” Lund said. “We filled five or six Dumpsters – you can’t imagine how bad it was.”
The Old Hotel Art Gallery opened on Halloween night 1975.
“We thought that was pretty fitting,” said Lund, “after all, there had been a murder here and all.”
Laufer said the old building can be a little spooky. Actually, she had the Paranormal Society come out and look for ghosts at one point.
“Sometimes you can smell this very strong smell of cigarette smoke – but no one is smoking here,” Laufer said, “and sometimes things are moved around and we don’t know by whom.”
Just recently, the interior of The Old Hotel was repainted. Many of the old windows have been replaced thanks to volunteer and community donations.
Yet like so many other nonprofit organizations, The Old Hotel is having a difficult time attracting new volunteers and board members.
“Back when we opened lots of people were involved and donated money,” said Lund, who’s the only original board member still serving. Many have passed away or moved away, she said.
“It’s just hard to get support. It’s hard to get young volunteers and we need them,” she said.
The Old Hotel is in need of exterior restoration.
“It’s an old building so there is constant upkeep,” said Lund. “But it’s got good bones.”
When asked if she plans to continue on the board for eternity, Lund laughed and said: “I sure hope not. I want some younger people and their families and their friends in here instead. That’s what I want.”
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