Hotel Houston: Montgomery’s five story-hotel was a first-class place | News, Sports, Jobs
For more than 80 years, a five-story brick hotel towered over Montgomery’s main intersection at the corner of North Main Street and East Houston Avenue. The Houston Hotel was established by one of the city’s leading early businessmen, Levi Houston.
Early photographs of the building show that it had a plaque on the front that read “1890”. The Grand Opening of the Hotel Houston was held on Thursday, May 28, 1891. The following day, the Williamsport Daily Gazette and Bulletin published a detailed account of the event, stating that guests were invited from many surrounding towns and “The Montgomery Band arrived in front of the hotel and spoke of sweet music. At last the sound of an electric bell gave more welcome music to many. . . .” Soon guests filled the dining room and dinner music was provided by an orchestra. The menu was reported (with a few misspellings) as, “Eel Tomato Purée SOUP, Tartar Sauce, Pommes Parisenne, RELISHES Olives, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, cold ham, beef, lamb, chicken mushrooms ENTREES Chicken croquettes French peas, fricassee of Point, Peaches French fries Brandy sauce Roast PrimeRibs of beef, beef, lamb and mint sauce VEGETABLES New potatoes, new peas, corn, tomatoes greens, asparagus, mashed potatoes, mayonnaise, chicken salad, lettuce, pantry, apple pie, apple pie, chocolate cake, ice cream cake, banana cake, lemon cake, orange and fruit cake, vanilla ice cream, strawberries and cream, nuts , raisins, cheese, tea, coffee” (commas added).
The article went on to detail the hotel’s features, saying the entire building had steam heat. The furniture was sixteenth century in style and made of oak. The first floor had a bar room, a billiard and pool room, an office, reading room, and a “washroom, bath, and water closet, all of which present an appearance of comfort, neatness, and general beauty. .” The second floor contained the dining room, kitchen, a private parlor, a public parlor, and family rooms. The third, fourth, and fifth floors had bedrooms. Guests had to share water closets and bathrooms. There were thirty rooms. for guests, a total of forty-two rooms.The first and second floors had mezzanines with intricate woodwork.
The article concluded: “In short, the Houston Hotel may be said to possess all the requisites of a first-class hotel, and its three hundred and fifty-pound owner, William H. Hartzell, is so proud of it that it was difficult to convince him , last night, that he doesn’t weigh a ton.”
When the hotel opened, Montgomery’s population was about 700. But with several factories selling furniture and one selling machinery, the city’s two railway lines saw many businessmen come and go. By the time the Houston Hotel was built, the Montgomery Hotel at the corner of South Main and Montgomery Streets had already been in business for about thirty years.
Sadly, Levi Houston died on Wednesday, July 27, 1892, just over a year after his hotel celebrated its grand opening (“History of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania,” by John F. Meginness).
On July 8, 1910, the hotel installed a new sign displaying electric lights spelling out the hotel’s name. It was the first electric sign in the city and was considered an innovation (from “Around Montgomery” by Joan Wheal Blank). According to The Grit, the “beautiful electric sign” was installed by “Owner Berger” (July 10, 1910).
The hotel had been in business for several years, but was eventually converted into a building with various businesses on the lower level. It was not clear when the transition took place, but a surviving postcard shows that the hotel was still operating in September 1916.
In early 1928 the building was being used as an apartment complex and suffered a devastating fire. Montgomery, Watsontown and Muncy fire companies worked for hours to put it out. As a result, 12 families were left homeless (from Montgomery Centennial History Booklet, 1987).
Photographs show that a mezzanine was added to the building’s third and fourth floors sometime between 1910 and 1961.
The building was restored, but a huge fire broke out again. The February 12, 1961 issue of The Grit reported that a fire had occurred the day before and that it took the Montgomery and Muncy fire departments four hours to extinguish it. The fire is believed to have started in the basement. The flames destroyed many of the apartments on three different floors, leaving nine families (eighteen people in total) homeless. Two businesses in the basement were damaged by water, one was a TV repair shop and the other a jewelry store.
The article further stated that Alem P. Hull, Jr. owned the building, which at the time was called Hull Apartments. He had already started the repairs and assumed it would take about six to eight weeks to complete.
The apartments were eventually closed and the building remained unoccupied for several years. The hotel that had once been such an elegant point of pride for Montgomery was torn down in 1976 as part of a community improvement project. The land where the hotel once stood was turned into a small park (from “Arreund Montgomery Borough 1940-1990” by Joan Wheal Blank). For a time it was known as Richard K. Stackhouse Memorial Park and has since been transformed into Montgomery Memorial Park.