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Gallery View: Liberty Bell Museum rings in the new Americus

“Travelers’ Haven: The Past, Present and Future of the Americus Hotel” celebrates the colorful history and renaissance of the Allentown landmark.

The exhibition is on view through Dec. 31, Liberty Bell Museum, Zion United Church of Church, Allentown.

Monogrammed dinnerware, glassware and silver serving pieces from the Americus are featured in the main gallery alongside postcards and other related ephemera. Recent photos by Lori Patrick reveal the renovation process and the building’s resurrected grandeur.

Vintage images trace the history of the Americus Hotel and other Allentown inns beginning with one built in 1762 by George Wolf at Seventh and Hamilton streets. It was later rebuilt as the Hotel Allen in 1882 and demolished in 1956.

Photographs of famous Americus guests include comedian Bob Hope taken in 1950 after a benefit show and Vice President Richard M. Nixon in 1960 on the campaign trail.

A 1969 photo depicts an Americus Airways helicopter providing rooftop transportation service for guests headed to New York City, Scranton and Reading.

A circa 1920s Americus room key, vintage letterhead and advertising are spotlighted.

A 1929 ad announces Morton Towle and his Americus Hotel Orchestra are performing in the “Cool and Comfortable Rainbow Room” at the Americus for 50 cents admission. Sunday dinner served in the main dining room was $1.50.

Allentown historian Frank Whelan narrated the history behind the “birth and rebirth of this local legend” at the Oct. 21 opening reception for the exhibition at the Liberty Bell Museum.

Whelan provided insight on how the Americus came to be part of the Lehigh Valley “hotel race” where cities took pride in newly-built luxury “Grand Hotels” during the 1920s.

A deadly fire Jan. 23, 1926 destroyed the Lafayette Hotel along North Seventh Street. This sparked a reassessment of fire codes and interest in erecting a modern “fireproof” hotel, reported Whelan.

The corner of Sixth and Hamilton streets was chosen for the new enterprise.

A tavern built by Abraham Gangawere in 1810 first occupied the site. Later, it was enlarged and named the Northampton Inn. President Martin Van Buren is listed as an overnight guest in 1837.

By the 1860s, it was expanded and renamed The American Hotel by owner George W. Seagraves. The five-story structure was razed in 1924.

Brothers Albert and J. Edgar Gormey partnered with other local businessmen to build an “ultra-modern luxury hotel” with 270 luxury and 54 business-class rooms on the vacant lot in 1926.

Named for Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, the 13-story, colonial Spanish style Americus Hotel was completed in 1927 at a cost of $2.5 million.

As with many downtown hotels in cities across the country, the Americus declined as travelers were drawn to inexpensive suburban motels during the 1960s.

The Americus briefly flourished in the 1980s after developer Mark Mendelson bought it from Albert and Anna Moffa for $1.25 million and the Americus became a part of the Radisson chain.

Radisson rescinded its affiliation in the 1990s because of alleged unpaid bills and taxes. The upper floors were declared unfit for human habitation in 2002. With that, the blighted hotel closed and by 2007, street-level businesses in the building closed.

Purchased by Albert Abdouche in 2009 for $676,000, the Americus Hotel, Trademark Collection by Wyndam held a soft opening in July. After investing $26 million for restoration, there are 80 renovated rooms, a restored grand ballroom and new restaurant.

At the exhibition’s opening reception, Dr. Dennis Blankowitsch, president of the Liberty Museum board, presented Abdouche with a silver ice bucket with “Americus Hotel” stamped on the bottom.

Blankowitsch told of how the piece and part of the collection on display had been passed on to him by former Liberty Bell Museum president Dr. John McHugh.

After the exhibit concludes, the pieces, including some from the McHugh collection, will become Americus Hotel property again. According to Blankowitsch, McHugh’s widow Marion said, “Things belong at the Americus Hotel.”

Also at the Liberty Bell Museum, in the hallway gallery, “Portraits of Freedom” features paintings created in 1960 by members of the Lehigh Art Alliance. A photo essay of the Liberty Bell’s journeys across the U.S. to various events between 1885 and 1915 is also on display.

Liberty Bell Museum Manager Stephanie Burke curated the exhibits.

Liberty Bell Museum at Zion’s Church, 622 W. Hamilton St., Allentown. Gallery hours: noon - 4 p.m. Monday - Saturday, noon - 4 p.m. second Sunday each month. Information: libertybellmuseum.org; 610-435-4232

“Gallery View” is a column about artists, exhibitions and galleries. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

PRESS PHOTO BY ED COURRIER Americus Hotel owner Albert Abdouche, left, is presented with a monogrammed silver ice bucket by Dr. Dennis Blankowitsch, right, president of the Liberty Bell Museum board.