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Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Fountain ...

PROVO — A hotel that was once a center of Provo social life was reduced to a pile of rubble Saturday despite years of effort to save it.

The Hotel Roberts, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was condemned by Provo city in September and demolished over the weekend.

Longtime Provo resident Shirley Paxman said she and her husband, Monroe, were shocked to see what's left of the hotel.

"We've known that it had to be refurbished, and that it was probably too expensive to do something with it, but my husband and I just drove by it this afternoon, and I was in a state of shock to see that it's just a pile of rubble," Shirley Paxman said.

Allen Roberts, a Salt Lake architect and descendant of the hotel's original owners, said he wasn't aware of the planned demolition and was sad to see a piece of his family history destroyed.

"It's sad to see anything that represents your family's existence and contribution, it's sad to see that go," Roberts said. "And it's a surprise; I just had no idea."

Roberts, who works to restore historic buildings, had attempted to help the former owners, Scott and Joanna Mills, find financing to save the hotel but was unsuccessful.

"I know that the Millses tried very hard to save it for many, many years," he said. "I guess this is one of those preservation stories that doesn't turn out the right way."

The hotel, which stood at 192 S. University Ave., was built in 1883 and was once host to myriad of social events.

"It was the social center of Provo for so many years," Paxman said. "Every women's luncheon, every club meeting, all the BYU social activities — before they moved to the upper campus — were always held there."

For the last few years, the Millses had been trying to find a way to save the hotel but couldn't find a financially feasible solution. The hotel closed its doors in 2003.

"We talked to some potential developers about buying it and providing assistance, too, but no one could ever really come up with a proposal that made any sense that didn't involve leaving several million dollars that could not be repaid out of redevelopment," said Provo City Redevelopment Agency Director Paul Glauser. "We tried several approaches, (the owners) brought in some hotel consultants from Colorado, but it just never progressed to the point where there was a do-able kind of deal."

An Orem development company, ArrowStar Properties, acquired the hotel in July after a Salt Lake bank foreclosed on the property. ArrowStar also attempted to save the hotel but concluded there was too much damage.

"They had had water damage throughout the building because of pipes that had frozen and burst, and the building had become uninhabitable at that time," said ArrowStar President and CEO Wayne Ross. "We had structural engineers come in to see if it was structurally sound to where you could renovate it, and the overwhelming consensus was that it was not something that could be restored."

Ross said those who had tried to save the hotel were saddened by the demolition but resigned about the hotel's fate.

"We found overwhelmingly that people knew it needed to come down; they were just saddened that it did have to come down," he said.

ArrowStar has not yet decided the property's future use, but the city allows retail, commercial and residential development in that part of the city.

"We're going to make an effort with architects and others to come up with a project there that will work, that will enhance the downtown area," Ross said.