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The Waldo survives through good, bad times

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

The long history of the Waldo building is a mixed story of successes and failures.

"From 1904 to the 1960s it was a hotel. In the 1960s it was used by Salem College, then the Arnetts converted it to apartments," said David Houchin, who researches history and genealogy in Harrison County.

Constructed between 1901 and 1904 at the behest of Nathan Goff Jr., the Waldo, named for Nathan's father, was easily the grandest structure in North Central West Virginia. The building was eight stories tall, 200 feet long and 100 feet deep. It had more than 175 guest rooms, as well as two steam-driven elevators, several dining rooms, three kitchens and two ballrooms. The lobby alone was 60 feet long, 56 feet wide and had a 33-foot high ceiling, according to "A History of the Waldo, Thru the biographies of the Goff and Arnett families," by Suzanne Clark Carroll, published in 1993.

The Waldo hotel had exceptional amenities for that time -- a water filtration system and a private well, as well as an ice-making plant and refrigeration facilities. Other features would have been the envy of present-day hotels, for the Waldo had its own barber shop, billiards room and a 1,000-square-foot bar, Carroll wrote.

When the Waldo was complete, Goff had a special trolley line built from the lobby entrance on North 4th Street through Glen Elk to bring guests to the hotel directly from the railroad station. Trolleys ran on the "Waldo" line for nearly 40 years, according to Carroll.

Prices during the hotel's heyday are a remarkable example of inflation. In the 1930s rooms cost $1.50 a night and dinners cost 50 cents.

Carroll wrote that business boomed until the advent of the Great Depression. During World War II, the hotel was used to quarter area servicemen awaiting transport to boot camp.

Following the war, hotel operations became less profitable. Nathan Goff III inherited the building, then sold it to a cousin, Mrs. Carol Reese. Reese sold it to Salem College in 1964 due to lack of profits.

In 1965, Salem remodeled the Waldo as a dormitory with the capacity to house 300 students. Rooms in the lower floors were converted to classrooms and offices for teachers, Carroll wrote.

The dormitory days were short-lived. In 1969, the college received a grant to build new facilities in Salem. College officials tried to sell the Waldo for $500,000, but found no takers. The price was subsequently reduced to $350,000, then $250,000. Still, no one offered to buy. Finally, James Arnett purchased the building for $200,000 on May 10, 1971.

From 1969 through 1971, only three businesses and the West Virginia Career College rented space in the Waldo, according to Carroll. Seven floors of the building were empty.

Arnett sought a return on his investment by converting much of the building to apartments and spaces for business, with some initial success. Carroll wrote that by the end of 1972, James Arnett had rented 60 apartments, a number that swelled to 80 by 1975. The rents were enough to provide a modest income to Arnett and his wife, Dorothy.

In January 1977, the Arnetts sold the Waldo to James Arnett's son, David, and David's wife, Suzanne. Carroll wrote that rents from the building provided a good income through 1980.

Since, the fortunes of the Waldo have declined dramatically, perhaps to come full circle.

Bank One placed the building for auction after David and Susan Arnett declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy, defaulting on an estimated $650,000 loan. The building was shut down last year because of numerous fire code violations. A foreclosure sale in Dec. 1999 failed to draw a single bidder and the future of the landmark was uncertain.

Then on March 9, 2000, Bank One accepted a $150,000 bid from McCabe Land Co. Evans King, a trustee for the Waldo from the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson, confirmed Friday that the company had made a $15,000 downpayment and added he expects no complications in closing the sale. King has stated he believes the company will restore and refurbish the building.

"I've had a lot of contact with them and they're a solid company," King said.

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