One of Richmond's important historical resources, destroyed in a massive fire earlier in the year, has become a dumping ground for old mattresses and assorted garbage.
The Pullman Neighborhood's International Hotel burned down last April in a fire intense enough to quickly reduce the structure to a scorched frame and ashes. Months later, the now festering building continues to deteriorate as mattresses and garbage pile up around it.
The fire also heavily damaged two adjacent homes, one on each side of the former hotel; both are vacant and also collecting trash.
Records show that the city red-tagged the building after the fire, issuing demolition orders on April 24, but since then, nothing has been done with the property, which continues to deteriorate and collect garbage. Fencing set up around the exterior has collected graffiti and has been partially torn down, providing easy access to the property.
In May, City of Richmond Planning Manager Hector Rojas said the demolition orders were on hold, waiting for the property owner to contact the city and state his intentions.
"We ordered demolition to take place, so we've sent the notice to the property owners basically saying, hey, this needs to come down, come in and get a demolition permit and demolish the property as soon as possible; that's where it stands now. We're still waiting on the property owner to let us know if they're going to go ahead and handle the demolition or if the city might need to take other actions into consideration," Rojas said.
Built in 1915, the hotel is said to be the birthplace of the Brotherhood of Pullman Sleeping Car Porters, the first labor organization led by African Americans in the country. Pullman Car porters stayed at the hotel waiting for the train cars to be serviced.
Until its closure in 1959, Richmond had the only Pullman repair shops west of the Mississippi.
Unofficially, some in Richmond believe the International Hotel was lost in an act of "demolition by neglect."
Demolition by neglect is defined as the practice of allowing a building to deteriorate to the point that demolition becomes necessary or restoration becomes unreasonable.
The historic hotel was owned by the late Ethel Dotson, who was an advocate of preserving Richmond's history and wanted to have the hotel listed as a landmark with hopes of restoring it.
Dotson passed away in 2007, and her family retained the property.
Former mayor Tom Butt, who worked with the Dotson family to try and find a way to preserve the property, says that a restoration project would have been expensive.
“I have been working with Dotson family members, most recently Jelani Dotson, for years, trying to find a way to save and rehabilitate it. I facilitated getting it listed on the Richmond Register of Historic Resources to make it more eligible for grants and tax benefits. The problem, however, has always been money. Rehabilitating the structure would probably be about a $1.5 to $2 million project. It’s almost impossible to get historic preservation grants for privately-owned buildings,” Butt said.