The World's First All-Electric Commercial Building Restored in Sunbury, Pennsylvania

Posted on: July 11th, 2012 by David Robert Weible 10 Comments

Named for the man who, in 1883, made it the first commercial structure illuminated by electricity, The Hotel Edison was converted over time to support a mix of uses and had been in a state of decline for years. Though they lacked any experience with historic preservation, Meghan Beck and her business partner, Bradley Niemiec, both 36, bought it anyway.

Three years and countless hours of restoration work later, the hotel, located in downtown Sunbury, Pennsylvania, is thriving.

“Basically, we want to create an environment that supports the legacy of the building as an historic landmark so it can continue to be enjoyed by guests and visitors in the future,” Beck told me.

But the real estate duo also saw it as a smart business venture. “The other side of it is that we have a lot of investments in Sunbury and believed that the success of this building was important to the downtown remaining viable,” she says. 

Using photographs taken of the hotel in the 1930s as a guide, Beck and Niemiec started restoration work with the dining room -- applying new wallpaper, installing picture and chair rails at the appropriate heights, reupholstering furniture from the 1930s, restoring the molding, and even tearing up the carpet and refurbishing the original wood floor.

Next came the upstairs hallways where ceilings regained their original 12-foot height and fluorescent lighting was replaced with more historically accurate fixtures.

The pair decided to maintain the mixed-use nature of the building with long-term apartments on the top floors, hotel rooms below, and a restaurant, bar, and banquet areas on the ground level. They’re currently at full occupancy with all but two rooms in service.

“The scale is the biggest challenge of this thing,” Beck explains. The size of the project dictates a phased plan for renovations. Next up is the facade, which Beck hopes to restore before the year is out. After that, their sights are set on the banquet facilities, stairwells, and the car-switch-operated elevator from 1917.

“I’m most excited that the business has been successful,” Beck admits. “In an area that has some trouble economically, that’s what everybody wondered about.”

But she’s also very proud of the building itself. “One of my favorite things is when visitors come and talk about ‘Oh, the Edison was the place to go back then.’ So we’re happy to bring that back.”

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David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He came to DC from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.

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10 Responses

  1. Joyce Mellom

    July 11, 2012

    Fabulous restoration. The original building had first floor awnings, window boxes, and a sign on top!

    The whole corner seems intact.

  2. Elizabeth Ward

    July 11, 2012

    Looks fantastic—I’ll have to stop by to see it next time I’m traveling I-80.

  3. Mike Froio

    July 11, 2012

    Stumbled upon this building several years ago working on a ongoing project documenting the former Pennsylvania Railroad. Its a beautiful space and I’m very excited to see somebody taking strides to preserve such a beautiful and historic building!

  4. Gersil N. Kay, IESNA, AIA/HRC

    July 27, 2012

    BRAVO – yours is the kind of American initiative that’s needed! In building conservation, as well as for new construction, Lighting is the easiest discipline with which to save energy and increase productivity (read profit). You might be interested in attending IESNA’s all-day conference on the latest energy-efficient lighting techniques on September 24th in Philadelphia at the historic PSFS, now Loew’s Hotel.Nationally-known specialists in many fields will deliver accredited lectures, including the new Barnes Collection.

    Sincerely,
    Gersl N. Kay, IESNA, AIA/HRC
    Building Çonservation International
    215 925 2004

  5. Anne M. Imhoff

    July 27, 2012

    I was born in Sunbury. My parents moved to NJ, but we frequently returned and would stay at the Hotel Edison. My mother had told me the first electric street lights were also installed in Sunbury by Thomas Edison, who I believe also had a small manufacturing plant in town.

    In August 2010 i returned for a visit and tried to spend a weekend in the Hotel Edison, but could find no one to answer the the bell. i was extremely disappointed i was unable stay once again in the hotel.

    i am delighted to read that Ms. Beck & Mr. Niemiec have restored this great old building. Next time I am “down south” again i’ll certainly try to visit.

    Anne M. Imhoff
    Waterbury Historical Society, Vermont

  6. Bobbie J. Owens

    July 28, 2012

    Thank you for featuring this landmark! I live in the neighboring town and have been advocating for restorative approaches to our downtown buildings. Unfortunately, our town has not adopted any historic entity to preserve the architecture. It lies solely on the property owners. In recent years, a non-profit organization supporting downtown revitalization has become involved in this concern. As part of the Main Street/Elm Street programs, facade grants are available that have had a tremendous impact on the downtown’s appearance, but we still need a historic entity to protect what we little we have left. All this in the town claiming rights to a Pennsylvania Governor’s mansion and his grave – his hometown. What a shame!

    I frequent the “Edison” and every visit presents a noticeable change in the right direction. The current owners should be proud of their efforts. I applaud their attitude to restore and am encouraged there is some hope for an area where restoration is not always a priority.

    Best wishes on your restoration from your neighbor and fellow restorer “across the river.”

  7. Vilma Colon-Oliver

    July 28, 2012

    Another historical landmark restored. I think it’s wonderful.

    Vilma Colon-Oliver
    Realtor
    Evans, GA

  8. First all-electric hotel in the world being restored | Victory Rolls and V8s

    July 30, 2012

    […] to the blog for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Hotel Edison is being restored to its 1930s glory by two real estate investors. Named for the man who, in 1883, made it the first commercial […]

  9. Carolyn Kane

    July 30, 2012

    Wow! Well done. It is wonderful to see how a beautiful building is seeing new life and in keeping to what is was when built. I do hope that the elevator is restored in the era in which it was built.
    It will be a great place to come and visit. Kudos!

    Carolyn Kane
    CT

  10. Ken Sandri

    July 30, 2012

    Edison received the acceptance of his new electrical business in the coal regions of Pennsylvania by providing light from the incandescent bulb as a reasonable subsitution for gas lighting. The Edison hotel was the first commercial building with the 3 wire system, as opposed to the earlier 2 wire system. He built a generating station in Sunbury, but simultaneously (1883) he built a electrical generation station in Shamokin also 15 miles to the east. Only a few weeks later his crew was electrifying the Douty Building and one evening held a demonstration for the town leaders. Soon after he “powered” St Edward’s Catholic Church (1st Church with lights), and other business and homes in that town also. Within a year his crews had strung wire & lighting fixtures on the streets of Mt Carmel (another coal region town) which claims to be the first town with electric street lights. The Coal Barons of that area provided Edison the support for his newest enterprise which he did not receive in New York City in 1880 because of the gas lighting’s popularity. (seek additional information from the Northumberland County Historical Society in Sunbury PA)