Anyone growing up in Wilkes-Barre between 1998-2005 remembers the Hotel Sterling as the abandoned monument towering over the Market Street Bridge as you entered the city. The tallest building in downtown Wilkes-Barre, it represented both the urban decay of an old mining town with nothing left to offer, as well as the excitement of a seemingly unending tower of exploration.
We were teenagers then, so naturally a 13-story abandoned hotel was heaven in a lackluster city devoid of any nightlife. I remember walking through the kitchen, with foreboding messages of “REDRUM” written all over the walls. The lobby, with its huge ceilings and ornate winding staircase, was cluttered with the spoils of past voyagers. The pile of clothing and furniture had been plundered from each room and left in the center of the musty ballroom. This large chamber was even the site of a small campfire one cold night.
As we scaled the winding staircase, the empty rooms was passed were littered with open dressers, televisions, and mattresses. Graffiti covered the hallways and asbestos dangled from the ceiling. An arcade machine had been dragged from the game room and stood abandoned on the landing to one of the floors. It too had been victimized by graffiti, after its plunderer realized they wouldn’t be able to remove it from the premises.
Nearing the top floor, we started circling around an old fire hose. It had been unraveled and now dangled limp, spanning the top five floors. We traced it back to the origin and found the door to the roof.
Nick and Bill on the roof
Perched atop the Sterling Hotel, the entire city of Wilkes-Barre is visible. We sat on the edge of the roof, feet dangling over the precipice as cars drove over the Market Street Bridge below. Kirby Park was clearly visible across the river, as couples walked along the lighted pathway. In the other direction, the lights from the malls and restaurants provided an artificial moonlight, with more and more chain restaurants and department stores being built in an attempt to “revitalize” a dead city.
The once majestic “HOTEL STERLING” sign now had broken bulbs. If it were to be turned on, I’m sure only a few of the lights would work. We would climb up behind the letters and look down at the bridge. Surely, if you looked hard enough most nights that summer, you’d often see figures in the middle of the “O” in Hotel. Of course, no one ever thought to examine the abandoned roof, 13 stories above their heads.
Now, in 2010, the larger tower of the hotel had finally been demolished. The police had started cracking down on friends of mine after the word got out about the secret entranceway. With a new mayor, the downtown section of the city is finally getting some attention. Instead of chain stores, it is getting a riverfront park, brick pathways through the colleges, and new roads and street lamps. Perhaps the urban decay of the early 00’s is melting away to make room for a clean, educated college town. Even the center square of the city has businesses that are not empty storefronts. Still, the beauty and excitement of this abandoned hotel was one of the best reasons to live in Wilkes-Barre.
As I’m learning to screen print here at Death By Audio, I decided my first design would be a tribute to the Hotel Sterling. If you would like me to make a shirt, I’m going to order a batch of different colors and maybe put some different color patterns on etsy.com. You can also mail a shirt to Death By Audio (contact me first) and specify your colors and I’ll make you one for free.