Editor's Note: This story is Part I of a two-part feature on the Iron Horse, a landmark and once bustling hotel which its owner is trying to restore to its former glory in the borough of Alburtis. Look for Part II tomorrow.
Owner Hermann Sulderits has the tenacity and work ethic of the machine for which his Alburtis hotel and restaurant was named -- The Iron Horse.
Like the spirit of those who built tracks across this nation to help fuel the Industrial Revolution, Sulderits has the determination not to let his closed hotel die. It was that spirit that led him to sell the facility's liquor license to begin paying off debt and starting anew.
In recent months, scaffolding ringed the building and his latest effort was under way, no doubt prompting passers-by to wonder just what was happening. Almost daily, the front door at 106 S. Main St. stands wide open as someone can be seen painting, hammering or fixing in some way.
But, despite Sulderits' effort and determination, Borough Council President Steven Hill is not as optimistic that the rundown landmark hotel will re-open, much less return to glory.
"There's an awful lot that's left to do, and I think he's running out of money again," Hill said.
You'll have to excuse Hill's pessimism. He has been hearing Sulderits' promises for years. Although seemingly well-intentioned, the reality has been that Sulderits hasn't been able to obtain financing to upgrade his deteriorating business.
Last year, the building was found to have 126 code violations. Fines of $26,250 were levied before the magistrate, and tenants were ordered to move out for their own safety. A settlement was reached regarding the fines, but that included Sulderits closing his business in June 2011 until upgrades are made.
Sulderits admits he is facing "an uphill battle." But one thing that is different from promises past is the liquor license sale that raised capital for repairs.
In late spring, Sulderits had brick workers begin repointing the exterior. He also had one of the roofs replaced and the electrical service upgraded. Other exterior cosmetic work is being done to quickly brighten the building that Sulderits said he recently learned dates to 1860, not 1876 as his sign on the porch says -- "something [else] we'll have to fix," he says.
But, he is working to do so. Fix things up, that is. The sign. The code violations. And, the shabby appearance that a cash-strapped business leaves. He even has enlisted some volunteer labor from those who believe in his cause.
Still, he faces one major foe: money. Or a lack thereof. The major repairs noted were funded by the liquor license sale, but much of the money has been spent on the reparis so far.
While the outside is beginning to take shape, most of the interior remains as it was on the day the business closed, only with a fresh coating of dust. The bar has become a makeshift work area, and the rooms for rent need major work.
The 126 code violations ranged from deficiencies involving electrical equipment, windows and doors, interior structure, roof and drainage, and rubbish. Sulderits admits the borough tried to work with him. And, he says, he wishes he could have complied. But, he just didn't have the money to do so.
He is now addressing some of those code deficiencies, but money is running out long before the list is satisfied.
Tomorrow: Iron Horse owner Hermann Sulderits has the will, but will he get the money to re-open for business?