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Monsour family's acquaintance with decaying investments precedes troubles at medical center

| Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, 11:29 p.m.
Jeannette solicitor Scott Avolio poses for a portrait outside of the former Monsour Medical Center on October 11, 2012 in Jeannette.
Eric Schmadel  |  Tribune-Review
Jeannette solicitor Scott Avolio poses for a portrait outside of the former Monsour Medical Center on October 11, 2012 in Jeannette. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
This is an undated photo of the Three Crowns Hotel (left), standing along Sarasota, Fla.’s Lido Beach.  Dr. Robert and William Monsour, also principals in the Monsour Medical Center, purchased the Three Crowns in 1979. They were also investors in the Azure Tides Hotel, shown to the right of the Three Crowns.
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,
This is an undated photo of the Three Crowns Hotel (left), standing along Sarasota, Fla.’s Lido Beach. Dr. Robert and William Monsour, also principals in the Monsour Medical Center, purchased the Three Crowns in 1979. They were also investors in the Azure Tides Hotel, shown to the right of the Three Crowns.

Cash-poor Jeannette's struggle with the abandoned Monsour Medical Center is reminiscent of another Monsour family deal in which a luxury hotel on Florida's Gulf Coast deteriorated into a rodent-infested eyesore, according to officials.

The similarities between the now-defunct hospital and the Three Crowns Hotel along Sarasota, Fla.'s tony Lido Beach are striking.

The medical center, founded in 1952 by four brothers — Drs. Howard, Robert, Roy and William Monsour — struggled through decades of financial and regulatory troubles before finally being shuttered in 2006. Jeannette officials condemned the decaying building, but don't have the $250,000 to $1 million to tear it down.

The Three Crowns was built amid the post-World War II boom that put the Gulf Coast on the destination map. It opened in 1958 and was purchased in 1979 by William Monsour and other investors, records show. Roy and Robert Monsour later joined their brother in the business venture, records indicate.

But like the 100-bed medical center, it wasn't long before the highrise, beset by legal troubles, fell into desperate disrepair and finally into foreclosure in 1989, according to court records.

The rundown building was bought twice by other investors — in 1992 and 1994 — who did nothing with the property as it continued to decay, according to county records. In all, the hotel stood empty for seven years before the city demolished it in 1995, officials said.

None of the surviving Monsour brothers — William, 84, Robert, 94, or Howard, 96 — could be reached for comment. Roy Monsour died in 2002.

Michael Monsour, Howard's son and the last CEO of the Monsour Medical Center, told the Tribune-Review last week: “I have no reason to talk to you about anything.”

Sarasota officials, who said a Ritz Carlton hotel now stands along the wide expanse of Lido Beach, remember the Three Crowns during its heyday and its demise.

“It was a desirable place to stay,” said Jeff LaHurd of the Sarasota County History Center. “It attracted the rich snowbirds. But then it was an eyesore as it was going down.”

Some say the two stark, cream-colored towers of the hotel and hospital, located 1,000 miles apart, bear an uncanny resemblance to each other.

Both were burdened by years of intense turmoil, which led to the medical center having 34 CEOs in 25 years, records show.

And both were ostensibly abandoned by their owners, officials said.

“They just locked the doors and walked away,” said Jeannette code enforcement officer Ed Howley about the hospital.

When asked about his experiences with the Monsours, retired Sarasota city manager David Sollenberger said it was a “nonexperience.” He said he never met the elusive brothers.

Sollenberger said that as the hotel fell into disrepair and was overrun by rats, officials sent notices to the brothers and their investors, but no one responded.

“We were never able to make contact,” he said.

Sollenberger's story mirrors Howley's, who said he has cited the medical center a dozen times since taking office in 2005 but has received no response.

Jeannette's problems are compounded because ownership of the property has been clouded by years of legal wrangling, foreclosures and bankruptcy proceedings.

Sollenberger said that before the Three Crowns was razed, steps were taken to ensure that colonies of rats living there did not scatter to other buildings along the beach.

“There was a great deal of concern about the rodent population,” he said.

Clippings from Sarasota newspapers also detail residents' complaints about a green, half-filled swimming pool that became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. They also complained about pieces of the building that became airborne on windy days.

Similar reports have come from businesses located near the Jeannette hospital where chunks of Fiberglas insulation and other materials routinely drift across Route 30 onto their properties.

The Florida connection

The Monsours, the sons of Syrian immigrants, were drawn to the Gulf Coast in the early 1970s when they invested in an orange grove, according to records.

Monsour Gator Groves was eventually sold, and William Monsour and his brothers began investing in real estate, records show.

In 1979, William Monsour bought the Three Crowns, built by a trio of developers from Sweden, Canada and the United States, according to court records. The hotel's moniker came from the three crowns in Sweden's royal insignia.

When the highrise opened in the late 1950s, cash was flowing freely in Sarasota. The Three Crowns was the tallest and one of the most luxurious hotels along that stretch of soft-as-silk beach. It was the place to be seen, where tanned partiers danced each night to the sounds of deejays spinning records by Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers and the booze flowed freely at the only beachfront bar on Lido Beach, according to newspaper accounts.

“It reflected Sarasota's growth after World War II,” LaHurd said. “A lot of upscale hotels and motels were built on Lido and that was one of them. I remember when I was a kid, it was a neat-looking place.”

The turning point

In 1983, William Monsour purchased a 40 percent interest in the Azure Tides Hotel, adjacent to the Three Crowns, records indicate.

Not long after, one of Monsour's partners in the Three Crowns, Jeannette physician Pittagore Hattoum, filed a lawsuit claiming Monsour allowed the Three Crowns to decay so it would no longer compete with the Azure Tides.

Hattoum, now living in Thailand according to an Oct. 18 court filing relating to his divorce in Westmoreland County, could not be reached by telephone or email for comment.

But Hattoum alleged in court records that he lost more than $1 million in the deal.

His suit states that the hotel decayed so much that temporary jacks had to be installed to keep it from collapsing.

Court records show Hattoum's attorneys withdrew the lawsuit in 1990.

Jeannette's fight

Sarasota's battles regarding the Three Crowns are history.

But Jeannette is fully engaged in its struggle to deal with the rundown hospital, now on the radar of state lawmakers and federal investigators looking at whether privacy laws were broken when patient and physician records were abandoned there.

City attorney Scott Avolio hopes to get court approval this week to enter the hospital's main tower with an engineer to determine if it is structurally sound.

Avolio worries that the building, already targeted twice by arsonists, could be a death trap if a major fire begins there.

“Containment becomes a bigger issue as the building further deteriorates,” he said.

Richard Gazarik and Amanda Dolasinski are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Gazarik can be reached at 724-830-6292 or Dolasinski can be reached at 724-836-6220 or

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