Condemned downtown Parkersburg building to be razed

Photo by Brett Dunlap The Parkersburg Art Center is redeveloping the property at 807 and 809 Market St. into a decorative green space and parking.

PARKERSBURG — The Parkersburg Art Center has acquired an old building in downtown Parkersburg that was condemned three years ago.

The Art Center purchased the Oeldorf building at 809 Market St., which was the site of J. Wetherell and Sons Jewelers that closed in 2011. The plan is to demolish the building and the adjacent building at 807 Market St. and build a decorative green space facing the street and parking, said Abby Hayhurst, artistic director at the Art Center.

Both structures are in such disrepair that they are hazards to the public health, she said. Besides becoming a habitat for animals and birds, mostly pigeons, and a place where it is suspected drug transactions and usage occur, parts of the buildings have fallen to the ground below, Hayhurst said.

“We’ve got to take them down,” she said. “They are both horrible hazards.”

While no one has been injured from falling debris, the fear is it may happen, particularly when parents park there while taking their children to activities at the Art Center, Hayhurst said.

Photo by Brett Dunlap The Oeldorf Building at 809 Market St., where J. Wetherell and Sons Jewelers was located, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The plaque has been removed and its location marked by the rectangular discoloration on the wall. The dilapidated building is in such disrepair that it was condemned three years ago.

“I just hold my breath,” she said.

The Art Center hopes to take an eyesore and make it attractive and take a dangerous situation and make it safe, according to Jessie Siefert, executive director of the Art Center,

However, it was the lack of maintenance of the building that has caused the present-day situation, she said.

“I think it’s very sad that it’s down to this,” Siefert said.

The situation is similar to another recent demolition in downtown Parkersburg, said Bob Enoch, president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society.

“While the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society certainly hates to see another of Parkersburg’s early buildings go down, however, as was the case of the recently razed 2nd National Bank Building, it is just too late to save it,” he said.

“I went through this building 10 or 12 years ago and in my opinion, it was questionable then if it was feasible to save. The upper levels were then in deplorable condition,” he said. “Those who would like to see the few buildings of any historical significance in Parkersburg saved, can only hope that the city and owners of the buildings develop a mindset of preservation. There are alternatives to razing.”

Wetherell’s was known for the decorative pedestal clock outside the building. The clock was acquired and restored by the city of Parkersburg during the administration of Mayor Robert Newell and was relocated to Market Street between the courthouse and city building.

The Parkersburg Downtown Design and Facade Committee approved the demolitions of 807 and 809 Market St. on a 5-0 vote, with one member absent, during its meeting Wednesday morning.

“The rear of the Wetherell building is just truly, truly a major hazard,” committee member Wayne Waldeck said.

Assistant zoning administrator Michele Craig said code enforcement has attempted to secure 809 Market St. multiple times but cannot do so completely because of damage to the building. There have also been issues with people going in and out of the building.

“It’s been a constant headache downtown,” Craig said.

Wendy Shriver, executive director of Downtown PKB, a new member of the committee, said she’s optimistic about the plans for the site.

“I’m sure the Art Center will do a fantastic job of redeveloping that space and making it aesthetically pleasing to people walking by,” she said.

Sharon Kesselring, executive director of the American Red Cross of Northwest West Virginia, also cited the safety issues with the properties in their current condition. She is concerned with the safety of the volunteers who park near there because “the buildings are used by people who have no business being in there,” Kesselring said.

“It gets a little weird,” she said.

She also is concerned someone could be struck by a falling brick. Demolition will remove the hazard, Kesselring said.

“Volunteers will have a much more safe place to park at night,” she said.

The Art Center paid around $70,000 for the property with funds specifically donated for the intended purpose of demolition and beautification, Hayhurst said.

In November 2016, the code department of the city of Parkersburg issued a condemnation notice on the structure and a stop-work order. The city was unable to contact Adie Boniface Ugim, who bought the building in 2013 and lives in a foreign nation.

The 113-year-old building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The adjacent building at 807 Market St. was once a doctor’s office and an office for the postal union.

The building will be demolished by Empire Builders after everything that is salvageable is removed, Hayhurst said. But little remains as the inside of the structure has been nearly gutted over the years, she said.

The plan is to salvage all the architecturally significant parts of the building and incorporate them into a decorative serpentine wall to border the green space, Hayhurst said. The significant parts of the building are several grotesques and large concrete balls, she said.

The plaque denoting the building is on the historic register also will be put into the wall, Hayhurst said. Metal etchings of photographs of the two buildings of what they looked like in years past will be installed in the wall, too, she said.

“When they were in their heyday,” Hayhurst said.