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Anthony's tale

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

For more than 60 years, the nine-story, 263-room Hotel Anthony was the city's leading meeting place. Located at Berry and Harrison streets, it took three years and $500,000 to build.

In 1974, it took just 294 explosive charges and nine seconds to turn it into rubble.

Complete in 1908, the Anthony was something special. Its lobby was a thing of ornate beauty, a stained-glass skylight suspended above marble walls and gilded fixtures. The hotel was first proposed by dry goods merchant Ernest Rurode and was designed by Charles Weatherhogg, a prominent architect who also designed Central High School and buildings at the Fort Wayne Country Club.

In the mid-1940s, the hotel's name was changed to the Van Orman Hotel. The hotel continued to draw customers and remained a favorite gathering spot until long after World War II. But its days were numbered.

Old age and a decline in the vitality of downtown Fort Wayne put the Van Orman on hard times. Even so, the old hotel enjoyed some memorable moments in its last years.

Alabama Gov. George Wallace made a stop there in 1964 during one of his many unsuccessful presidential bids. Wallace, known at the time as a racist, caused quite a stir during his brief Van Orman appearance. Presidential hopeful Eugene McCarthy also campaigned at the Van Orman in 1968. It was the hotel's last hurrah.

The Van Orman closed in September 1969. By that time it was once again known as the Anthony Hotel. There was considerable public debate on what should be done with the once-proud hotel; one proposal would have turned the place into apartments for the elderly. But the $1.3 million renovation idea never got going.

More than $100,000 in unpaid taxes were owed on the hotel, and a tax sale was conducted in 1973. The building was purchased by the adjacent Fort Wayne national bank, which announced plans to tear the hotel down.

The Anthony was used for fire training exercises and was finally condemned on May 3, 1973.

Stripped of most of its valuables, the hotel was blasted to the ground early on the cold Sunday morning of Jan. 13, 1974.

That same year, another grand old Fort Wayne hotel met a similar fate. The 13-story Keenan Hotel, built in 1923 at Washington and Harrison, was blasted into oblivion Oct. 20. About $2 million had been spent to refurbish the Keenan only a year before.

Today, the city of Fort Wayne ponders a new hotel/convention center complex. But it seems doubtful the new hotel - if built - will be able to match the beauty of either the Anthony or the Keenan.

--Jan. 23, 1982