Hotel born of community effort to lift up city – Williamsport Sun-Gazette

The community came together a century ago to build the Lycoming Hotel, forerunner to today’s Genetti Hotel and Convention Center.

Spearheaded by the Board of Trade, the goal was to “do something which will lift the city out of the rut and begin an era of public enterprise the like of which Williamsport has not experienced,” Henry D. Brown, Board of Trade president and chairman of its executive committee, told the Gazette and Bulletin in April 1920.

A committee was formed to sell hotel stock that year, the purchase of which “should appeal to the citizens of Williamsport, first because this project is a community enterprise … and second, because a fair yearly dividend of at least 5 percent is reasonably assured.”

The campaign to sell hotel stock reportedly dominated town activity in May 1920, with 260 “energetic businessmen” in 20 teams canvassing the city for subscriptions.

It was difficult not to notice, with full-page newspaper ads, window cards in local businesses, banners across city streets and advertisements on streetcars.

Stock was sold in 1920 as part of a community effort to build the Lycoming Hotel, forerunner to the Genetti Hotel.

A 10- by 30-foot scoreboard was placed in front of the courthouse to display team standings that were tallied daily to show progress toward the $750,000 minimum needed to build the hotel.

Though they were only able to raise $626,000 by the close of the campaign, they persevered and ultimately obtained the amount needed to get the project off the ground.

More than 100 individuals and businesses pledged amounts ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 each toward this community enterprise.

That was a substantial investment, considering $1,000 in 1920 would be the equivalent of about $14,445 today after adjusting for inflation, according to the CPI inflation calculator.

With success in hand, Gov. William C. Sproul granted a charter for the Williamsport Hotels Co.

Robert F. Kennedy gave a talk at the Genetti Hotel on Oct. 28, 1959.

The next challenge was in deciding the location, with multiple sites under consideration. In April 1920, the unanimous choice was at West Fourth and Pine streets, but an analysis of the city’s projected growth coupled with southern and eastern exposures led the committee to buy the site at Fourth and William streets instead.

Buildings were razed starting April 2, 1921, and excavation began later that month. A last-minute decision was made to add a 10th story to the planned facility, causing a nearly two-month delay in the delivery of steel.

“The architect of the day thought of older buildings in Europe and Rome where they included big columns,” said Kathy Taylor, the Genetti Hotel’s current general manager. “They wanted (the building) to be ornate.”

Once the steel arrived and started going up, local folks lined the construction site daily to watch the construction process.

By Aug. 15, 1921, contractors began laying brick — about 200,000 bricks in all that were laid at a rate of about 40,000 a week, according to a booklet from the Genetti’s 90th anniversary.

While bricks were being laid, John F. Letton, the first general manager of the Lycoming Hotel, began ordering the furnishings that would be needed. Many local businesses were tapped for the various needs.

L.L. Stearns and Sons ordered fine table linens with the crest and name of the hotel woven in and made by a firm in Belfast, Ireland, the Sunday Grit reported.

A. H. Heilman, an area company that supplied some of the largest hotels of the day, supplied specially designed carpets and rugs. J.K. Rishel Co. designed and built furniture, and contracts for bedsprings and mattresses went through F.A. Romich. Ralph B. Grammer took care of silverware, engraved with the name and crest of the new hotel.

“It is going to be a big, handsomely furnished, tastefully decorated ‘living room’, such as might grace the home of a multi-millionaire who had the good sense to entrust its creation without reservation to a master builder,” Letton told the Grit in December 1921 in describing his vision for the lobby.

By the following June, at a total cost of about $1.5 million, the Lycoming was formally opened with three days of dinners, banquets, balls and tours, according to the Grit.

“The Lycoming Hotel exists because its creation was made a community enterprise,” Letton told the Grit some months later, in April 1923.

It became so heavily booked that Letton was concerned it would not be able to accommodate the thousands of tourists that were expected to arrive during the summer.

In its first five years of operation, 266,924 persons roomed in the hotel, 363,575 were served meals in the main dining room, and 755,388 were served meals in the cafeteria.

Business flourished in the Lycoming’s early years, growing annually up to its best prewar year, 1928.

Over time, though, the community’s sense of responsibility for the hotel waned, along with its understanding of the role the hotel played in the community.

Changes in community spirit reportedly were accompanied by a decline in atmosphere, tone and service, and the hotel went through changes in ownership.

It was sold first to a hotelier from Detroit, then back to the Williamsport Hotels Co., and finally to Gus Genetti Jr.

Genetti put in a bid to buy the Lycoming in February 1975 after he and his wife spent a night there to see what it was like. They liked it and Williamsport.

“This is one of the most well-built, well-maintained buildings I have ever seen,” he told the Grit at the time, sharing that he believed he could make it into a “viable operation” with a new marketing concept.

Major renovations were planned, and Genetti saw the potential for the hotel to serve as a convention center.

When he first bought it, the hotel took on a new name — the Genetti Lycoming Hotel.

But then “Lycoming” was dropped from the name after a violent wind storm in November 1989 blew down the Lycoming Hotel sign from the roof of the building.

The following year, the roof was outlined in neon, and the hotel’s name officially became the Genetti Hotel and Convention Center.

The Genetti has continued to serve the community, with just about every person in the area having a reason to visit it at some point, whether for a wedding reception or a high school prom, a holiday celebration or a baby shower, a formal dinner or a drink in the bar, Taylor said.

“Everyone has been here for something,” she said. “We’re still here after 100 years. There’s a reason for that.

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