In its heyday at the turn-of-the 20th century, St. Joseph boasted nearly a dozen downtown hotels. Names like the Savoy, Metrople, Colonial, Donovan, and Pacific signified St. Joseph’s prominence as a regional mercantile center and outfitting post for the westward migration. one of the hotels that emerged during this “Golden Age” of prosperity was the St. Charles. Completed in 1881 and expanded to its current configuration over the next two decades, the St. Charles boasted 45 guest rooms and offered some of the finest accommodations in a City renowned for its hostelries. Leaded glass, coffered ceilings, columns, varnished woodwork, an elaborate open staircase of varnished oak illuminated by a skylight three stories above, and a marble lobby counter with an elaborate brass cash register were just a few of the many fine appointments that made the St. Charles a venerable address in Downtown St. Joseph.
Bearing an outwardly Colonial Revival appearance at first glance with its leaded glass fanlight windows, arched entrance porch with keystone ornament, and projecting bay windows embellished with dentilwork, the Hotel also reflects its Italianate beginnings in its northern section with its cast iron and wooden storefront corner entrance and pedimented cast-iron window hoods and chamfered stone lintels. The entrance porch floor is decorated with encaustic tiles. The name “St. Charles” is inscribed on the tile floor at the corner entrance.
One by one St. Joseph’s historic hotels have closed and faced the wrecking ball. The most recent occurred nearly 20 years ago with the loss of the Hotel Robidoux — St. Joseph’s grand 1920’s hotel that was imploded and who’s destruction was later featured in a Budweiser commercial. The St. Charles gained national attention in 1973 when portions of the movie “Paper Moon” were filmed there. Ryan and Tatum O’Neal starred in this classic film for which Tatum received an Oscar in her first film role. Today, the St. Charles Hotel is the last remaining vestige of Downtown St. Joseph’s hotel legacy.
The St. Charles closed its doors for good in 1988, having served in its final days as a single room occupancy hotel for elderly and low-income residents. The hotel was subsequently sold and used shortly as the location of a laundry business and later for storage.
Deferred maintenance has taken its toll on the building. A leaking roof has resulted in considerable interior water damage. Roof rafters have rotted, portions of the first floor have collapsed into the basement, and sections of the building’s masonry walls have collapsed. The most significant collapse occurred during the summer of 1997 when a rear wall in the building’s courtyard area collapsed, exposing portions of the building interior to the elements. This prompted the City to condemn the structure.
A local group of concerned citizens began negotiations with the owner to facilitate the securing of the structure in the Spring of 1998. Some securing was achieved at that time. Local preservation groups including St. Joseph Preservation, Inc. and the St. Jospeh Downtown Partnership have met regularly over the past year to develop a strategy to save the building. There is a great deal of public support for the preservation of the Hotel. The City desires to see the building saved and has attempted to grant the owner extensions to make necessary repairs. Regrettably, the owner has failed to make meaningful progress and has failed to sell the building at a reasonable price to a Limited Liability Corporation that was formed to save the structure. The owner has indicated a desire to be a financial partner in the building’s renovation. Unfortunately, his lack of credibility in the community has frightened away potential donors and investors who do not with to affiliate themselves with him. With additional collapse of an outer layer of brick from the Charles Street Elevation of the building in February of this year, the fate of the St. Charles has taken on renewed urgency. Another condemnation hearing has been set for April 25, 2001. Just two weeks ago, Sunshine Sign Company, an adjacent property owner, announced that it had entered into a contract to purchase the hotel to expand its business. The owners of the sign company indicated that the hotel would be demolished within a week. A quick outcry by the preservation community seems to have forestalled the hotel’s destruction for now. Representatives of St. Jospeh Preservation, Inc. plan to meet with the potential buyer this week.
UPDATE: Despite a successful effort by St. Joseph Preservation, Inc. to raise nearly $70,000 to purchase the Endangered St. Charles Hotel from the current owner, Sunshine Electronic Display Corporation, St. Joseph’s last remaining intact Downtown Hotel fell to the wrecking ball on Tuesday, May 19, 2001. Demolition began in earnest on Monday, May 18th after St. Joseph preservationists failed to convince the hotel’s owner to sell the hotel to the preservation group as originally promised through a verbal agreement. St. Joseph Preservation, Inc. had attempted to secure a written agreement from Sunshine, but was unable to execute the agreement due to the owner’s unwillingness to negotiate once it was learned that successful fundraising efforts had occurred. A candlelight vigil is planned for Wednesday, May 20, 2001, at 7:30 p.m. The purpose of the vigil is to promote awareness about St. Joseph’s endangered historic buildings and to kick off a drive to raise funds to establish a local revolving fund for endangered historic properties.