New Life Is Sought For 120-Year-Old Building

Four years after returning to his native Wheeling, Glenn Elliott is hoping to do his part to revive downtown by breathing new life into what was West Virginia’s tallest building when it opened more than 120 years ago.

Elliott, a lawyer who returned home in 2009 after starting his career in Washington, D.C., closed on his purchase of the Professional Building a couple weeks ago. The building was last home to ophthalmology and optometry offices, and has been completely vacant since January.

On Wednesday, he opened the 1300 Market St. structure for a tour by city officials, business leaders and historic preservationists.

Elliott said he first entertained the idea of acquiring the building by participating in the Ohio Valley Young Preservationist group’s “lovescaping” project, which saw more than 20 downtown buildings decorated with hearts on Valentine’s Day to raise awareness of historic buildings threatened by vacancy and neglect.

The project was steeped in symbolism, but Elliott’s involvement affected him on a much more literal level. For the first time, he took notice of the Professional Building’s ornate Victorian features – the spire, the gables, the polished granite facade and an ornate first-floor ceiling long concealed by modern renovations, to name a few – and fell in love with them.

“I’d driven by a thousand times, but I never really bothered to look up,” Elliott said.

Only the ground floor is suitable to rent right now due to fire code issues, Elliott said.

In 2011, the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp. commissioned a study that estimated the building needed about $1.5 million worth of renovations, including roof repairs, a sprinkler system, a new fire escape and replacement of the existing antique, manually operated elevator.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which makes it eligible for state and federal grants.

Elliott said he plans to seek funding through the West Virginia Historical Society – but he won’t learn whether his application has been approved until summer. Grant program rules forbid him from performing any work prior to receiving the award so officials can ensure the project meets their specifications, he said.

“It’s going to be a long process,” Elliott said.

Designed by architect Edward Bates Franzheim, the 125-foot-tall Professional Building was the tallest structure in West Virginia when it opened in 1891 as the City Bank of Wheeling. Franzheim’s work includes Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Rogers Hotel and the Court Theatre – now the Board of Trade Building.

“I consider this his finest piece of work,” Elliott said of the Professional Building. “I’d like to see it again be the best office building in the city.”

Mayor Andy McKenzie, who attended the open house, said he’s always been fond of the building and hopes to see it become an integral part of downtown Wheeling’s future.

“It’s exciting. … It’s nice to see someone who’s committed, willing and interested in investing their time, energy and money” in Wheeling, McKenzie said.