Standing in the middle of town, was the grand Queen Anne styled Battery Park Hotel. Its name came from Confederate forces, using the site for batteries of artillery during the Civil War.
As a little girl, I remember looking up at the fourteen story tall building and thinking that it surely must touch the sky and tickle the soft, underbelly of angels who were flying a little too close to the spire.
I had heard that famous people had once sought rest in its grand rooms, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. There was a rumor that the fabulous Elvis Presley had stayed there and in a fit of rage, shot the television when he saw Robert Goulet on the screen.
Forty years later, the grand hotel had all but been abandoned in favor of more modern, sterile glass and steel architecture. It was slated for demolition but special interest groups rallied and petitioned to save the old historic building.
People who had migrated to the suburbs and built or bought one-story cookie-cutter houses, were now flocking back to the city. They were eyeing the building for lush pent-house style apartments, but the city decided that the grand hotel should be designated for senior citizens, who, living on small fixed incomes, should have a bit of luxury in the winter of their lives.
The age requirement was at least sixty-five and the residents had to have a bit of independence, although there were the required accouterments for wheel chairs and walkers. Once the remodeling was completed, all two hundred and thirty-eight rooms were occupied within three weeks and a waiting list numbered in the hundreds.
Once again, the Battery Park Hotel had a heartbeat.
There was a laundromat in the basement that boasted ten washing machines, twelve dryers and for fifty cents, a chest of drawers could be filled with fresh, clean clothes.
Once a week, a hairdresser would come to coif and apply just the right tint of blue to old ladies’ hair of another time, who would never dream of venturing outside looking unkempt. The men could opt for the long ago discarded tradition of a straight-razor shave, if they trusted that the hairdresser had steady hands.
There was a room designated for clothing that had been outgrown or was no longer wanted, appliances that were no longer needed, magazines that had been read hundreds of times and bits of yarn and fabric that were too small to save. All of these things could be bought for a mere pittance.
Every Friday night was game night. The residents could partake in Bridge, Checkers, Gin Rummy, try to coax together a five-thousand piece puzzle, or just sit around and talk about old times, old men and old women.
As they played, they could hear the lonesome, forlonging, yet romantic call of the train that rode along the French Broad River.
The residents consisted of spry, maverick “oldsters,” taking advantage of a new kind of freedom as well as the sad, forgotten ones, tossed away like last weeks’ Sunday newspaper.
Sometimes you could see one of them peering out of a window as if perhaps nostalgically looking for their lost childhood or hoping to see a loved one stroll by. Surely, whatever they saw was from an entirely different perspective than what they could see from the ground.
Through the years, residents came and went. Some had to go to assisted care living. Some died and went to their final resting place, be it to a cemetery with an elaborate tombstone, or to the neglected Potters’ field.
Old people who should be treasured for their wealth of knowledge and the stories they can tell are more often than not, considered to be nothing more than relics. They are frail and wrinkled and some of them smell like dusty furniture. Their eyes are cloudy and their hearing has gone the way of their youth.
Some of them are still full of life. They don’t care how they smell, and it doesn’t matter if they can still see or hear. They’re just happy to be alive. But there are those who are so lonely, their tears could water the nearby flowers and they silently wish for a visit from the angel of death, whose soft underbelly may have been tickled by the spire.
Centuries of memories crept along the corridors and settled into the crevices of the Battery Park Hotel. It would be an idealistic notion that traces of everyone who had entered the front door, walked the halls, and lounged on the comfortable, overstuffed furniture in the lobby had left an indelible mark, but who would tell their story?
If those walls could only talk…but on a cold December day, the walls were silenced forever. That was the day the grand Battery Park Hotel burned to the ground and took every living soul with it.
To be continued__________________