As the scaffold and sheeting that covered Hoquiam’s Emerson Manor for many months came down over the last week, many may have wondered, why doesn’t it look like they did anything? It looks the same!
That was the point, to shore up the building to make it structurally sound, make interior improvements to individual units, install a new roof, and upgrade the heating and sewer systems, all while maintaining the historic look and feel of the former hotel.
Emerson Manor was one of nine Grays Harbor Housing Authority properties that got major structural and interior upgrades since $32 million in private investment funds from the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program were announced in late 2017.
“We have spent a lot of money to preserve Emerson Manor to look like it did 50, 60 years ago,” said Housing Authority Executive Director Jerry Raines.
The building, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2023, remains the centerpiece in historic downtown Hoquiam. The hotel is now a Housing Authority senior living facility, its ballroom now a senior center. The brick and concrete structure got a new roof, elevators, flooring, fresh paint, energy efficient windows and lights, and new kitchens, including appliances and counter tops.
The work done at the Emerson outside included “a lot of mortar work” on the exterior brick walls, said Raines. Bricks that had to be replaced were done so with bricks that matched the existing bricks. Inside the lobby, the original floor and nearly all the original, ornate ceiling tiles were preserved.
Seismic work was done, including drilling anchors through the brick into the concrete shell of the building, to hold the building together in case of an earthquake. This type of work was done at other Housing Authority properties, including Hoquiam Manor. There, the anchors are visible on the outside of the building. At the Emerson, a different type was used that are not visible, preserving the historic integrity of the brickwork.
Preserving — while upgrading — Emerson Manor while staying within a strictly limited budget proved challenging, especially when it came to the white cornice, the decorative trim that rings the building just below the roof line.
“The cornice around the building was in very poor shape,” and was at a point where it was crumbling and could fall, posing a risk to pedestrians five stories below, said Raines.
“There was some concern about the safety of the ornate cornice that runs along the top of the building, and after consulting with the Hoquiam Historic Preservation Commission they found Pioneer Masonry out of Seattle that specializes in restoring such architectural details,” said John Larson, Polson Museum Director. “The end result is just a perfect example of the Housing Authority finding the right solutions to ensure the building is properly preserved.”
As the plumbing in the building was being upgraded, which required work to clear and line the old pipes under the building, a contractor said the original floor could be torn up through a section, then rehabbed. That did not fit with the plans, so other arrangements were made to keep the floor intact and still update the pipes.
Raines said it was important to update the building to make it safer and more comfortable for its senior residents, while keeping the historic value intact. “There aren’t many of them left,” said Raines of Hoquiam’s historic buildings.
“The Emerson Hotel is indeed one of Grays Harbor’s historic architectural showpieces and it is really satisfying to see that the investment made there in the past year will ensure a long future for the building,” said Larson.
The improvements to the Emerson and the other eight Housing Authority properties were designed to last up to 30 years.