‘Suspicious’ fire destroys historic Belvedere Hotel in Oklahoma Borough
Amid the rubble, the grandeur of the Swiss-chalet inspired Belvedere Hotel was still evident Wednesday morning after a fire ravaged most of the historic, five-story building late Tuesday night into early Wednesday.
No one was injured. The cause of the blaze in the nearly 115-year-old abandoned building was under investigation by a state police fire marshal. Officials told Trib news partner WPXI-TV the fire appears to be suspicious.
More than five fire companies battled the massive blaze, which closed a portion of Routes 66 and 819, Orr Avenue and the Apollo Bridge until about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to Lee Schumaker, code enforcement officer for Oklahoma Borough.
A Norfolk Southern railroad maintenance crew arrived early Wednesday to check the nearby railroad tracks, according to Schumaker. Trains were delayed or re-routed during the fire. Requests for comment from Norfolk Southern were not returned late Wednesday afternoon.
What didn’t burn folded into the first floor of the hotel, exposing a series of expansive, hand-built stone walls rising 60 feet behind the hotel, seemingly glued to the rocky hillside like a thick, outer skin.
“The craftsmanship is still amazing,” Schumaker said. “The stone mortar joints are still intact — even after the fire.”
The hotel was built in 1905 by Joseph Gianini, a Swiss engineer/builder, and his employees.
Oklahoma Borough brought out contractors to survey the site for safety and estimate the cleanup cost, according to Schumaker.
“There is no health hazard except for cars stopping and motorists trying to take photos,” Schumaker said.
The building is lined with asbestos, which could pose a danger to the public if it becomes airborne, he said.
But, because it’s wet, there is not a problem, according to Schumaker, who consulted with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The hotel has been abandoned since its owner, Lanna Planitzer, moved out in 2017 after the borough declared it was unsafe to occupy. The former hotel, apartment house and bar was leaning toward Route 66 with its sagging roof as well as deteriorated, broken and rotted floor joists in the 28-room building.
In February, Oklahoma officials met with PennDOT, the state Department of Environmental Protection, Westmoreland County and others trying to find grants to pay to raze the dilapidated building.
Demolition and related expenses would range from $200,000 to $500,000. Oklahoma Borough, population 915, has a budget of about $160,000 for 2019.
It will be cheaper now that there’s less of the building to demolish, Schumaker said. However, it still will be an expensive and complicated proposition because of the asbestos, he added.