Resident remembers Hotel Clovis history

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Anna Wyatt looks at the spot where her styling chair was once anchored to the floor in the Hotel Clovis. Wyatt said in the 1960’s when she worked at the hotel, she was only the third female barber to be licensed in the state.

Sharna Johnson

A lot has changed in the near 40 years since Anna Wyatt last walked through the halls of Hotel Clovis.

Friday, as she laid eyes on the inside of the building for the first time since she moved her barber shop further north on Main Street in 1974, she was greeted with deep pockets of darkness where sun and chandelier lighting once gave color to now dusty, chipped marble floors and mosaic tiles.

What remains of carefully molded southwestern art deco designs around the ceilings is dulled against peeling paint.

And rather than the buzz of the once thriving social center it was, the beam of a flashlight gives life instead to multi-colored lines of spray paint forming obscenities on virtually every wall, signs of the years of vandalism it has endured.

Eighty years after the hotel was built, the building is on the cusp of rebirth.

In coming weeks contractors are expected to converge on the distressed nine-story building that was once known as the tallest building in the southwest.

Destined to be remodeled into low-income housing, the building may never again be the hotel it once was, but developer Stephen Crozier — who has received historic preservation tax credits for the project — has committed to retain the integrity of its history.

And it’s a history 81-year-old Wyatt remembers as if it were yesterday.

“I was expecting somebody to make use of it. I wasn’t expecting them to tear it up,” she said of the fate it has met since its doors were shut for the last time in the 1980’s.

On entering the lobby, she headed straight for the room to the left, dim lighting seeping through boarded windows to show a hollowed rectangle of exposed pipes and distressed walls that used to be the barber shop.

She immediately moved to where her styling chair was once anchored to the floor and took a moment to look around before telling of her time there.

She was 30 back then, one of only three female barbers licensed in the state and she was cutting men’s hair, something that just didn’t happen in the early 1960’s.

It was so unique, in fact, she proudly told of how she was featured in newspapers.

Walking through the room next to the barber shop, she recalled how it was once a ladies ready-to-wear shop.

And when she was pregnant, she said the ladies in the hotel’s curio shop ordered her all the things she would need for the new baby.

In the lobby by the front desk, she stopped and smiled as she told of meeting the actor Ronald Reagan, who in 1981 became the 40th president of the United States.

He sat in the lobby and waited for a train, she said.

“Tall and slender and good looking,” she said. “We old gals thought he was a wonderful man.”

And to the right side of the lobby was the lounge, and just outside its doors was the station where a man named “Shorty” shined shoes.

But before she worked at the hotel, she had visited it as a child.

Carefully climbing the steps to the ballroom on the second level, Wyatt told of how her parents brought her to the hotel with her pillows and a blanket, tucking her in to sleep under the steps while they danced.

Walking in a guest room across from the ballroom, she stopped to look at what remained of the shattered ceramic toilet and sink.

“When you turn teenagers loose, they’re liable to do anything,” she said, remembering how nice the bathrooms used to be.

“I think it’s terrible that they’ve let it go down like this. It would cost a fortune to build something as beautiful as this was.”

The rebirth of the hotel won’t be cheap either.

Crozier’s plan comes at an estimated price of $12.8 million, most of which is backed by $10.5 million worth of federal tax credits he’s been allotted by the state’s mortgage finance authority.

Under his proposed redevelopment plan, the project will renovate the hotel and surrounding properties into 59 rental lofts and 8,000 square feet of commercial space.

The plan experienced a period of uncertainty when voters defeated an Aug. 2 Affordable Housing Plan ordinance, which would have allowed the city to donate the building to Crozier and provide him loans and grants to meet a $1.4 million gap in his funding.

However state officials have said Crozier has found a way to fund the project without the city’s assistance and should close on his lending arrangements within a week.

Crozier is required to maintain historic elements of the building such as the design of the facade and corridors, doorways, the original layout of the ballroom and more, said Clovis Community Development Director Claire Burroughes.

Because of those guidelines, she said he has structured his plans to work with the building’s history by doing things such as creating apartments that will span both sides of the corridors with glass fronts that will still leave the corridors visible and retain the feel of the hotel’s original layout.

“It’s going to be lovely when it’s done,” she said.

State officials have said Crozier must complete the hotel project by Dec. 31, 2012 in order to receive the tax credits he’s been allotted.

Wyatt said she has waited a long time to see the hotel resurrected and if there’s ever a dance held in the ballroom again, she just might join in, though she admits she hasn’t danced in years.

“I’ve been pushing for (it to be fixed up) all along because it’s history,” she said.