FORTY FORT — What was once the centerpiece of a grand hotel in Wilkes-Barre slated for demolition now hangs in near anonymity in a West Side restaurant.
The chandelier — well, one of the chandeliers — that hung in the Hotel Sterling has found a home at Canteen 900 on Rutter Avenue. Owner Abby Billek-Singh said the chandelier — made of cut crystal — sparkles for customers daily and evokes memories of years gone by.
Dave Koral, owner of the building that houses Canteen 900 and 16 other tenants plus upper-floor apartments, said he bought the chandelier through Traver’s Auctions in Dallas and had it restored.
He said he paid around $1,500 for it and it took a month to restore it.
The 800-plus-pound light fixture had been in a barn and was in need of restoration, he said. He had to buy samples of crystals — more than half were missing — and match them to the chandelier. Also, the frame of the chandelier was bent. But, he said the project was well worth it and the chandelier now looks like it did when it graced the Sterling on River Street.
“I re-purpose a lot of stuff,” Koral said. “I remember seeing it in the Sterling when I was a young man. It was fun putting it back together.”
Billek-Singh said her customers marvel at the chandelier, and when they find out where it came from, they are amazed.
“People are always taking pictures of it,” she said. “We feel very proud to be operating under such a large chunk of history.”
In recent years when news of the Sterling’s imminent demise surfaced, groups formed protest lines to try to convince city and county leaders to keep the building upright — to find a developer to restore, rather than demolish, the landmark building.
In September 2011, when flood water from the Susquehanna River seeped through the Market Street Bridge flood gates, large quantities of water poured into the nearby Sterling, causing damage to the foundation and forcing the city to reroute traffic away from the area. As recently as Friday, Butch Frati, the city’s operations director, said the building continues to deteriorate from the inside out and the only option is to take it down.
Sally Healey, who headed a group of “Save the Sterling” advocates, said Monday she was pleased to learn that the chandelier has been saved and restored. She and members of her group have had lunch a few times at Canteen 900, and they always sit at the table directly under the chandelier.
“It’s good to see it alive and well and in a place where people can see it,” she said.
Healey wonders where a lot of other “stuff” from the Sterling went. She said there were many historical artifacts in the building, but there doesn’t seem to be any record of where they are now.
Fred George, 81 of Wilkes-Barre, a cook at the Sterling from 1949 to 1971, said the chandelier at Canteen 900 is the same one that served as the centerpiece in the hotel.
George called the hotel a “mini Waldorf Astoria.” He said that when he learned the chandelier was at Canteen 900, he went over for lunch.
“I have 22 years of memories of that place,” George said of the Sterling. “It was historical, magical — a jewel. I’m glad the chandelier is somewhere and still shining.”
Billek-Singh said having the chandelier in her restaurant is an honor and a great responsibility. She said she cleans it at least once per month — the chandelier can be lowered on an electronic pulley — and she meticulously cleans every piece of crystal.
“The Hotel Sterling lives on in that chandelier,” she said. “And so do its people.”