Owner seeks demolition of Citizens National Bank building

Petition opposes move

Owner Rob Shaffer said he has a deal in place to demolish the historic Citizens National Bank building at 219 Fourth St., Parkersburg, and sell the property. An online petition asking a city committee to reject the demolition request has drawn more than 500 signatures. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — Preservationists hope to save an historic downtown building from the wrecking ball, but the owner said Monday it’s too little, too late.

A request for permission to demolish the former Citizens National Bank building at 219 Fourth St. is on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting of Parkersburg’s Central Downtown Business District Design and Facade Committee, slated for 9 a.m. in the small conference room next to council chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building.

A petition asking the committee to reject the demolition request was posted on the website change.org and had received more than 500 signatures as of Monday evening.

“Preserving the Citizens National Bank building protects Parkersburg’s unique cultural and historical identity and allows future generations to experience what defines us as a city,” the petition says. “The craftsmanship in these buildings can never be reproduced.”

Owner Rob Shaffer said he wanted to preserve the building when he bought it about 20 years ago with an eye toward cleaning it up, getting some tenants and drawing the interest of a buyer who could fully rehabilitate it.

Built in 1898, the five-story, classic revival structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“I’ve had it for sale for 10 years now, but nobody’s done anything,” he said.

Now retired, Shaffer said he has a buyer in place for the property and plans to raze the building.

“I’ve done everything I can to save the building, and I just can’t continue to carry it. It’s too heavy,” he said.

Built in 1898, the five-story, classic revival structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Documents on the West Virginia Division of Culture and History website, www.wvculture.org, describe it as “a crucial cornerstone for the eroding downtown streetscape” and “a handsome statement of sensitive detail and proportion.”

The petition argues that increased federal and state preservation tax credits make rehabilitating the building more attractive. It notes a study commissioned by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation shows younger Americans find living and working in neighborhoods with historic buildings appealing.

But this building needs “millions and millions of dollars” of work, Shaffer said, including new plumbing and wiring, a new elevator and sprinklers.

“The cost to rehab that is just astronomical. It needs everything,” he said.

There are also safety concerns, with windows, bricks and parts of the cornice coming loose and falling over time, he said.

Wood County Historical and Preservation Society President Bob Enoch said he applauds Shaffer’s efforts to preserve the building.

“I understand that he has to do something,” Enoch said.

Enoch said he’d like the city and business community to get involved and help find someone to buy the building and repair it instead of tearing it down.

“We would like to see it saved, but it’s got to have a purpose,” Enoch said. “I don’t want people to go in there and say, ‘Let’s save this building’ and forget about it.”

Shaffer said it’s too late for that.

“It’s like waiting ’til the funeral and then saying, ‘Let’s give this guy CPR,'” he said.