Greenwood’s Midway Hotel, or How Buildings Fall Down

South East corner close

As we learned last week in the News Round-up, the Greenwood’s Midway Hotel (first built in 1905 as the Kitchell Hotel, enlarged with a north addition in 1916, and later renamed the Weiner) will be demolished.  Inspection by a structural engineer reported the building was “unrepairable” (Delta Daily News, April 19, 2018, “Historic Greenwood Building Suffers Death by Neglect”).  Regular Preservation in Mississippi readers know that failure to maintain a flat roof and prevent moisture damage will sooner or later bring about the structural failure of buildings.  Regular maintenance is needed to ensure drainage is not blocked and moisture barriers need to be replaced or repaired as needed throughout the life of the building.  Greenwood closed off Walthall Street for the block, which leads one to believe someone thinks the building could be in danger of collapse, or at least, falling debris.  Although the road is closed, there are no barriers preventing anyone from walking down the sidewalks, nor any caution signs.

Rear elevation

There were no obvious-to-my-eyes bowing of walls, but cracks, spalling, and water damage around window sills and lentils was evident throughout the structure.  Earp’s Barber & Style Shop was still in operation August 2017, but portions of upper floors of the hotel had collapsed onto the lower floor and part of the roof was missing (Historic preservation a challenge, Greenwood Commonwealth, August 6, 2017, p. A01).

The building is currently owned by Larry “Blue” Neal.  In 2015, Neal stated he had owned the building a year and “was being ‘pushed real hard’ by the city” (Greenwood Commonwealth, November 6, 2015, p. A004).  He said he had cleaned up the property, boarded up windows, and was ready to secure second story windows which were “open to the elements.”  At the time, Neal declined to permit the city’s structural engineer to inspect, stating he had his own structural engineer.  The roof had collapsed by then, and the city council had previously voted to secure the building in response to the poor condition of the building.  East elevation fullInterestingly, Neal has attempted to beat long-time Ward 6 city councilman David Jordan three times, running against him again in 2017.  The Midway Hotel is in Ward 6.  Part of Neal’s campaign statement was Greenwood needed

…a councilman who will address the problems of today rather than yesterday. (ad in Greenwood Commonwealth, May 21, 2017, p. A04)

Jordan won his 9th term as Ward 6 city councilman, garnering over 2/3 of the vote to defeat Neal.

Less than 6 months ago, the Commonwealth reported that Neal was looking for funding to create a homeless veterans center in the hotel, according to Brantley Snipes of Main Street Greenwood (Work on vacant downtown buildings continues, November 27, 2017, p. A01).

East elevation east doors

Walking down the sidewalk on Walthall Street, I smelled the dank odor of water/mold/mildew.  Look to the left in the photograph above, and note the dark spot spot at sidewalk level.  The smell was coming from the opening in the wall and probably reflects significant water and moisture penetration.   [Full Disclosure: I am not a structural engineer, nor a professional in building construction or inspection or preservation.  I have, however, spent plenty of time underneath old houses and in cellars, and repaired water/moisture damage to floors and showers because of construction mistakes and improper/neglected maintenance.]  It is just my opinion based on my observation and personal experience that where it smells like that, there is water damage.  There is also that whole no roof/windows previously open to the elements/interior floors collapsed thing going on.

Retracing the history of the decline and imminent (?) fall of the Kitchell/Weiner/Midway Hotel presents a message.  While initially, my intent in visiting the hotel was to just see the place for myself, and then to do a piece on the history of the building, the picture of what has happened here began to shift my perspective.  In the process of looking at the building, trying to really “see” it and the surrounding neighborhood and community and how this building fits into downtown Greenwood, and then researching the newspaper archives from the time of initial construction forward, something else began to emerge.  I have to wonder if it is a similar experience to that which evokes the wrath, anguish, sadness, dismay, anger, frustration, vexation, and/or emotional conflagration that emanates from E. L. Malvaney, W. White, Thomas Rosell, other authors, guest authors, and the many commenters who are professionals in this field.

In 2001, then-owner Russell Cohron, who had owned the Midway since 1978, put the hotel building up for sale.  He stated that the 1917 tile was still in the front lobby, and that the structure was in good shape, with updated sprinklers and wiring.  Businesses still operated in the building.  In 2002, after Cohron sold the building to Glenn and Flo Miller, Will Perkins filmed a movie called “The Midway” at the hotel, and even then according to Perkins, the ceiling was beginning to collapse.  “Original lighting fixtures” were still intact in areas.  Backing up the claim for original lighting fixtures, an article in the Commonwealth reported in 2003, that a 100-year old carbon light bulb sold when the hotel was known as the Kitchell, “still burned” (March 27, 2003, p 21).  The article indicated it was returned to the sellers, the J. D. Lanham Supply Company on Market Street, established 1904, a year prior to the opening of the Kitchell Hotel.  Although the article also stated the hotel “was torn down” they might have just meant “fallen down” as the hotel is still–at least it was on April 25–standing, albeit on a shaky foundation.

So how does a building go from regular use, “in good shape with updated sprinklers and wiring” and within a year, the ceilings are starting to collapse?  The 1985 National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Central Commercial and Railroad Historic District, which includes the Midway, stated

Demolition activity in the downtown area has focused principally on residential buildings with the result that Greenwood’s relatively intact commercial area is now surrounded, particularly on the east and west, by a wasteland of parking lots and intrusive new construction. (Mary Warren Miller, June 25, 1985)

The Kitchell/Weiner/Midway hotel will collapse or be demolished. It is listed on the 2017 LeFlore County real property as holding true value of $42,450 for the building, and assessed at value of $6,368.  True value of the land is listed as $20,000, assessed at $3,000.

What was the intended plan?  Who buys property with a collapsed or collapsing roof, ceilings, and floors without a plan for how to use it, either for the benefit of self or others?  Why does one obtain control (and thus, power over the controlled object) and then do nothing that contributes to the well-being of the object, item, person, community, or county?

Kitchell/Midway Hotel Timeline

  • H. G. Kitchell, along with William. A. Green of the Cotton Growers’ Railway Company built a railroad from Black Hawk to Greenwood, later expanded to Itta Bena in 1902
  • Kitchell, as a stockholder of the Greenwood Electric Railway Company, helped fund one mile of track and two cars from the corner of Market and Howard Streets to Carrollton Avenue, and then east to the YMV depot and later to the furniture factory
  • Kitchell constructed the hotel with its two adjacent stores in 1905
  • T. J. Harvey was the original contractor; G. W. Chenoweth provided furnishings
  • Kitchell leased the hotel to the Mothersheds of Tupelo in 1914
  • Kitchell constructed an annex on the north end of the hotel facing Walthall Street, that cost $8,000, and had modern conveniences like “baths, closets” in 1916; Humphries and McGinnis constructed the 2-story annex
  • F. A. Greenlee of Columbus sold the hotel (when did he buy it?) to L. Weiner in 1919 for approximately $60,000
  • Dinty Moore, well-known restaurateur of Clarksdale secured the Weiner Hotel Cafe in 1927
  • a fire burned around 40 square feet between the ceiling and the roof as a result of ‘crossed wires’ in 1939
  • J. W. Baird purchased the Weiner Hotel and ‘remodeled and reconditioned’ to become ‘one of the finest hotels in this section of Mississippi in 1943; S. L. McGinnis completed the remodel
  • Alfred Stoner suggested the name “Midway” in a contest to name the newly remodeled hotel

*sigh* Want to read more about preservation fails?



Categories: Demolition/Abandonment, Greenwood, Historic Preservation, Hotels

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4 replies

  1. Thank you for this post. I have to agree with your assessment. Although without firsthand knowledge of the building and its condition one should always acknowledge that the deterioration and damage could be more serious than it seems, this building doesn’t appear too far gone to rehabilitate. We’ve probably all seen many buildings in far worse condition that have been renovated, even when the wood framing within the masonry perimeter walls has collapsed. It would be an expensive endeavor, and in a small town without a definite tenant or use waiting to inhabit the renovated building, it usually comes down to the owner’s willingness and ability to invest in the building’s preservation. It’s always frustrating to read or hear that an older building has been diagnosed as “unrepairable”. When you work in this field, you come to realize that any building’s preservation or reuse usually comes down to the owner’s willingness and ability. I’m including financial wherewithal in the ability category. Even if they don’t have an immediate use for the building, if they are willing, they can usually find a preservation strategy they are able to implement, even if it’s just maintaining it or mothballing it for future use.

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  2. An excellent post that needs to be read by everyone. All around the state, from Meridian to Columbus to Natchez to Jackson to Greenwood, we are seeing a cavalier attitude towards both “ordinary” and extraordinary historic buildings demonstrated by public officials and many property owners that has led to the irreparable loss of our historic fabric. It needs to stop if we are to preserve the wide range of buildings that help give our historic cities their je ne sais quoi.

    Liked by 1 person

    • On that note, could another Demonstration School gutting be in “progress” at the “W” campus? The Demonstration School gutting occurred at State Teachers College (Miss. Southern, then) back in the early 1960s. It then became George Hurst School. It’s next to the McCain Library on the USM Campus. The architect was Overstreet. The first principal was Jenkins my schoolmate Sylvia’s grandfather.

      http://cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=65647

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  3. The owner of this building is one of our chronic political office-seekers, who bought the hotel with no resources, no plans and no judgement. The interior collapsed several years ago and he always has an excuse for doing nothing. Sadly, we are infested with this mentality and one structure after another becomes unstable or is demolished, leaving gaps in our downtown fabric. The city really has no choice at this point but to get it down before someone gets hurt. Our mayor will do anything viable to save historic buildings, but she seems to be chronically dealing with people who should never be allowed to buy such property.

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