SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - It's one of the biggest buildings in downtown Salisbury and for years it held nothing but untapped potential. Now it appears the Empire Hotel has been sold.
The City of Salisbury has announced a press conference to be held on Friday morning to reveal details of the sale of the building in the 200 block of South Main Street, and to introduce the new owner/developer.
The hotel was opened in 1859 and was known as the Boyden House, named after local attorney and political figure Nathaniel Boyden. According to the Rowan County web site, Nathaniel Boyden started building the Empire Hotel in 1855.
The building is an example of Beaux-Arts commercial architecture, a French term meaning "fine arts," and the style is known for being highly ornamented. Traveling salesmen showed their wares in the "Sample Room," an 80 x 30 room. When not in use, the room was also used as a skating room.
The hotel was a gathering place during the Civil War, and according to local lore, the hotel was occupied by federal officers following the Civil War, according to the building's history page on the county web site. On April 1, 1870 General Robert E. Lee and his daughter took a carriage from the Salisbury Railway Depot to the Boyden House to have breakfast.
The hotel was remodeled in the early 1900's by Frank P. Milburn, who designed the Salisbury Depot. After extensive renovations in 1907, the name was changed to Central Hotel and then later, the Empire Hotel. There was at one time a domed ballroom on the top floor. The history page also notes that there was a tunnel from the hotel to the Meroney Theatre across the street, put there so the actors could go back and forth without going outside through crowds and inclement weather.
It closed in 1963 after 104 years in business.
In recent years the lower floors were used as a furniture and appliance store and the location for Ralph Baker's Shoes, and was owned by Mary E. Ragsdale.
Ragsdale gave Downtown Salisbury Inc. the first chance to purchase the building in 2007.
Wallace Realty has been the longtime local manager for the property.
In 2000, Downtown Salisbury looked into the cost of renovating the hotel. The findings were that is would cost $9 million, and the owners could expect to recoup $1.3 million per year, according to the county web site.
A Salisbury real estate web site listed the hotel in 2012 with the following description: "The space at 212 S Main Street, Empire Hotel, offers s 2,800-3,600 square feet of sales floor with 18' ceilings and 4,400-5,200 square feet of storage on the first floor. The available space includes a large finished basement, 7,000+ square feet. A fantastic and 4,000+ square foot mezzanine is a special feature of the space and is included. The space will have new HVAC, electrical, restored lighting."
Further details on the new owner/developer and any plans related to the property have not been revealed.