SHARON SPRINGS — A former hotel nearly a century old collapsed Wednesday after years of neglect.
The Empire Hotel, which sits on less than one acre at the corner of Willow and Union streets, operated during the village’s heyday as a spa destination but stood vacant for several decades, according to Village Mayor Douglas Plummer.
The former hotel was built in 1927 as a Jewish school to be used during the summer months, according to Lori Nolfo, president of the Sharon Historical Society.
The structure was unoccupied at the time of the collapse, Plummer said. No one was injured, and none of the adjacent residences sustained any damage.
“She imploded on herself, the very gracious old girl that she was,” he said.
The village is responsible for cleaning up the site and demolishing the corner of the structure still standing, Plummer said.
Funding may be available through the state Office of Homes and Community Renewal, he said, and village officials called an emergency meeting Thursday evening to address the situation.
The site is cordoned off with an orange temporary construction fence and the block is closed to vehicular traffic, but dozens of visitors have flocked to the property to view the ruins.
“It’s now the tourist destination of the county,” Plummer joked. “I could be out there selling tickets.”
Featuring mission-style architecture with cross gables, a wrap-around porch and three corner towers with pyramid roofs, the three-and-a-half-story structure was noted for its stucco exterior embedded with shards of colored glass, according to Nolfo.
“It was a really, really beautiful structure,” Plummer said.
Severe thunderstorms Wednesday afternoon likely had an impact, Plummer said, but attributed the collapse to “years of neglect by an absentee owner.”
The property was purchased in August 1999 by Spyridon Livathinos of Staten Island, who also owns two undeveloped properties in the town of Summit, according to Schoharie County real property records.
“He bought the property really cheap and never looked at it again,” Plummer said, adding that Livathinos did not pay taxes and would not respond to court appearance tickets.
Livathinos paid $18,000 — half the county’s 2019 full market value assessment of the property — to the Talmudical Academy Orach Chaim of America, which is described in the deed as a “religious corporation with its principal office and place of business in Sharon Springs,” and was associated with the Feldman family of Brooklyn, the property’s original owners.
Plummer said he accompanied Tolga Morawski, executive director of the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank, on an assessment of the property two years ago to determine if it was eligible for funding through the organization, which assists municipalities with demolition and restoration projects.
“He took one look inside the window and said ‘this is the worst building I’ve ever seen. We need to walk away right now,’” Plummer said.
“We were a little nervous about the risks,” Morawski said. “We didn’t want somebody getting hurt.”
“If we have something favorable, we’d like to invest in it,” he continued. “But this would blow our whole two-year budget.”
Morawski emphasized the importance of code enforcement, especially in areas suffering economic decline, and praised the efforts of village code enforcement officer Cliff Dorrough.
“Making sure code enforcers have the resources that they need is so critical to keeping everyone safe,” Morawski said.
Once a bustling tourist destination with more than 60 hotels, Sharon Springs is now home to just three, all of which are in various stages of disrepair, Plummer said.
“The village is tired of absentee owners and demolition by neglect,” he said. “Every community has a structure like this. Hopefully this will be an empowering lesson.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.