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Building construction

Men pausing work for a picture during construction of the Whit and Browning building.

Old structures always seem to fascinate me for one reason or another, and the town of Logan sure has plenty of them, nearly all of which played some role in the history of the once busy city.

I think part of the interest for me is knowing what roles each building played in the lives of Logan Countians, most of whom have long since departed, either from death or from moving to another location, usually in another state.

Many of us are fortunate enough to remember the former G.C. Murphy building in the heart of Logan that most people simply referred to as the “Dime Store.” At one point in local history, it was the most frequented business in town. Then, of course, there were the Aracoma and Pioneer hotels that withstood the test of time for many decades before each met a rather untimely demise.

The facts are that if you wander around town you will find many structures that have seen their better days. From High Street to Main Street in Logan, buildings like the former Appalachian Power building sit either empty or only partially utilized. However, every building served a useful purpose at some point in time, and each has its own interesting history.

One such structure looms as a constant reminder as to what once was a bustling town with bumper-to-bumper automobile traffic and sidewalks filled with so many people that even on a Friday night one had to yield to pedestrians crossing the streets.

One concrete and brick dinosaur in Logan was formerly known as the White and Browning building. However, since its purchase by Michael Cline in 2020 it has been renamed by him as “Stark Tower.” Cline is the owner/operator of the popular “Hot Cup” café located on the first floor of the five-story building.

What I find interesting about the property is that it was constructed exactly like a previous wooden frame edifice that was also known as the White and Browning building. That particular structure burned in 1922, and it is believed that an 18-year-old young man named Earl Spicer was murdered in the basement of the building prior to it being set afire. Spicer was an employee of Aracoma Amusement Company in Logan, but he slept in the basement of the building that burned.

Here is the Logan Banner account of the incident: “Earl Spicer was found 25 feet from his cot, wedged between the iron safe and the wall of the building in the excavation that extended beneath the sidewalk. He was fully dressed, shoes laced up, and lying on his back. The granolithic sidewalk overhead prevented anything from falling on the body of Spicer.”

The article continued, “A ghastly wound in his throat that nearly severed his head from his body might have been caused by the workmen in an effort to extricate the body, but many do not think so.”

Adding a bit more intrigue to the story, the newspaper continued with “The lad had been frightened from the building on Thursday night previous to the fire by hearing someone whispering in the basement and slept the remainder of the night in the lobby of the Jefferson Hotel (now McCormick’s Dept. store), and Friday night in a box car, although he kept this a secret from his employers.”

The Banner said that Spicer neither smoked or drank alcohol and that “The only motive anyone would have for murdering him would have been his probable entrance to the building while others were there for the dastardly purpose of firing the building, and who would have murdered him to keep their identity and mission a secret.”

The disastrous fire was said to have caused tremendous damage to adjacent businesses and even shattered the windows of both the Aracoma and Pioneer hotels that stood across from Stratton Street. The Banner reported that “The blaze was the fiercest ever and more heat was generated than any fire in the history of the city.”

The contents of the various offices in not only the White and Browning building, but surrounding businesses such as Wellman’s Jewelry, Elk Drug store, the National Department Shop and others were described as being a total loss. Estimates of damage were between one half and a million dollars, considered a monstrous amount for the year of 1922. At least five lawyers’ offices, three doctors offices, two dentists’ offices, two insurance agency offices, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company and other businesses within the White and Browning establishment lost all contents. Important records, maps, etc., were lost and could never be replaced.

Just a few days following the fire, Riley C. White announced that the debris would be removed and that as soon as the foundation could be “gotten into shape and the materials assembled” construction of a new building would begin. According to White, “the new structure will be an exact replica of the old building even more substantial than the one destroyed by the fire.”

It was said the original building was constructed at a cost of $120,000 and the owners had an insurance policy that covered $81,000 of that amount. White said the new building would cost much more because the plans were for using more steel and concrete to make the structure “absolutely fireproof.”

The elevator in the White and Browning building was unique, even being used for the few remaining offices that were there in the early part of the last decade. Logan City Councilman Howard Jemerison was the last elevator operator there. However, in 1992 Verzetta Coleman’s full-time job was operating the elevator by manually opening and closing the elevator doors as she escorted patrons and employees of the building to and from each floor.

The Logan County Assessor’s office records the show the structure being built in 1923, which means work began quickly, although Mrs. Coleman once was quoted as saying the current building opened in 1926.

Despite there being much-needed repairs to make the building fully functional again, Mike Urioste, who was known for razing several buildings in Logan, including the Aracoma Hotel, once inspected the building and declared it to be structurally sound. After obtaining the property, he spent $16,000 for a rubberized roof to the building. Unfortunately, “Little Mike” died unexpectedly in a motorcycle accident.

There remain many fond memories for some folks who can recall doctor or dentist’s office visits as children at what was the White and Browning building.

Here’s hoping that the historical premises — where as a young child I once had an aching tooth removed — truly becomes a “stark” reality.

Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.

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