The keystone of Williamsport ‘s historic district and Millionaires Row is this building known originally as the Herdic House Hotel.
Commissioned by lumber baron Peter Herdic, the historic hotel was built by Eber Culver, the architect who designed most of Peter Herdic’s and the City of Williamsport’s historic buildings. Herdic hoped to capitalize on the business from the newly constructed Pennsylvania Railroad Depot at the rear of the hotel and at the same time stimulate growth in this section of town, of which he had substantial land holdings. He would be successful on all accounts.
Construction of the hotel began during the Civil War in 1864 and completed just after the close of the war in 1865, the building officially opened in September of that year. Completed at a cost believed to be $225,000, though no one knows the actual cost since Herdic asked Culver not to submit an estimate, for fear the cost might prevent him from actually building it. The completed project was a four-story hotel built in the Italianate style and capable of housing 700 guests.
Situated in the middle of a five-acre park filled with oak trees and flowers, the hotel had a deer park fronting it, containing no less than six deer and a large decorative fountain. Materials obtained locally were utilized throughout, such as the necessary lumber and marble from Mosquito Valley , which is evident in the First Floor Hall and North Lobby. The Hotel contained every convenience for guests such as a telegraph office, barbershop, cigar and newsstands and several first class restaurants. Herdic also built a streetcar line to connect the hotel with downtown Williamsport.
The Hotel got off to a shaky start when a gas works built especially to light the hotel burned to the ground only hours before the official grand opening. This sent Herdic and his staff scurrying through Williamsport to buy every oil lamp and candle they could find. Despite this, the opening was a success and the Hotel quickly flourished and gained a reputation as one of the finest hotels on the East coast. Unable to survive the financial panic that hit the United States in 1878, Herdic filed for bankruptcy and the Herdic House Hotel was sold at auction for $1,200.
It was purchased by Mr. R. J. C. Walker, the son in law of Herdics’ largest creditor William Weightman and the husband of the woman who would be rumored to be the wealthiest woman in America , Anne Weightman Walker. The Walkers renamed the building the Park Hotel, and performed extensive renovations to the building and grounds while continuing Herdic’s tradition of making the Hotel the center of social activity in Williamsport.
As the local economy and train travel thrived, Williamsport became a popular place for conventions and the Hotel a favorite place for visitors and vacationers. In 1889, the building was rented from Mrs. Walker’s estate by Col. Charles Duffy. The Park Hotel remained a successful establishment and in 1930 was purchased by William Budd Stuart.
In 1937, Mr. Stuart began the process of converting the building from a hotel to a retirement home for elderly women as a memorial to his mother, Laura Van Ness Stuart, and established a foundation in her name to operate and maintain the building. During this time, as a result of the state building code that prevented retirement homes from being over three stories, the Third and Fourth Floors of the Park Hotel were removed. This was done while still maintaining the buildings’ original roof line and architectural features such as the massive Italianate roof brackets. Mr. Stuart opened the Park Home for elderly ladies in 1940.
In 1993 the Park Home Board determined that the Park Home needed to be modernized and the best way to accomplish this was to demolish the building and replace it with a new facility. While opinions were varied, the overwhelming attitude within the city’s preservation community was that the integrity of the historic district was in jeopardy should this be allowed. It was during this time of legal battles to ‘demolish vs preserve’ the building that Dr. Randall Hipple dubbed the building ‘The Flagship of the Historic District’. This battle went all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and set the standard for preservation in Pennsylvania .
Unable to obtain the necessary approvals from City officials and Historical preservationists, the Board of Directors of the Park Home decided to vacate the building, relocate the remaining tenants, and put the building up for sale. The building faced an uncertain future and was eventually placed on the state’s list of top 10 endangered historic structures by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
In July of 2000, three local businessmen, former congressman Allen E. Ertel, businessman William Brown and local preservation architect Anthony H. Visco, Jr., purchased the Park Home and began extensive renovations and selected restoration to the now, re-named, Park Place. All three men located their businesses in Park Place.
Due to the passing of time, several owners and various renovations, much of the Hotels’ original interior had changed. Ornamental plaster such as cornices, moldings, ceiling medallions and original light fixtures disappeared. Interior elements were largely depleted, but items such as a few room fireplaces, the black and white marble tile in the first floor main lobby and main hallway, the main lobby monumental stair, the interior lobby columns, and the early Twentieth century matching cornice and center medallion tin ceiling located in the south dining room, remained.
Significant exterior architectural elements that remained were the massive outside wall lanterns located at the north, east, south and west entrances, porch columns, and the Italianate roof and window brackets. Park Place is now primarily professional office space, maintaining some of the building’s historic grandeur while the infrastructure has been updated and restructured to accommodate modern office requirements.
So that while care has been taken towards preservation, using period paint colors, furnishings and fixtures, the remodeling has also been progressive and practical by updating for computers and the internet, new heating, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, and security systems. Several businesses located in the building have used period furnishings in order to maintain the historic ambiance. Wall finishes, painted borders and antique collectibles are evidence of pride in the building’s tradition.
At present, all three floors are occupied. There are eight businesses and two apartments located within Park Place . With the addition of a small catering kitchen and public restrooms, the building and grounds are in high demand for weddings, receptions, anniversaries, showers, parties, proms, cultural events and exhibitions.
Entering the 21 st century the Herdic House Hotel is, once again, active with people doing business and enjoying social events within its grand walls.
Preservation Awards: 2001 – Williamsport Historic Architectural Review Board awarded Park Place the HARB Achievement Award for Historic Preservation.
May of 2005 – Preservation Pennsylvania, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, awarded Park Place the 2005 Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Award for the Herdic House Hotel restoration.