There were no vacancies at the Hotel Roberts on Sunday because -- as of Saturday -- there is no more Hotel Roberts.

To the surprise of just about everyone, the 130-year-old building located at 192 S. University Ave. in Provo was razed this weekend after the current owners got the building condemned and approved for demolition.

In its final years, the historic hotel was used as temporary housing for the homeless.

Gwen Vance, the assistant director of Community Action, which assists people in crisis, worked with owners of the Hotel Roberts over the last several years as she set up housing for the homeless. She was not told ahead of time that the building would be taken down.

"They did whatfi" she said Monday. "My goodness. I though they were going to try and restore it. So it is just not there anymorefi"

The Hotel Roberts has been on the city historical landmark register for many years. But nothing could save the building, said Charles Hugo, Provo's chief building official.

Hugo said he has been fighting for the life of the Hotel Roberts for 20 years.

"But it has always been a problem," he said. "It is an old building trying to fall apart. It just does not meet what we are trying to do today, which is to make a safe, quality building."

When owners want to make changes to buildings on the Provo landmarks register, they first have to get permission from the Landmark Commission. But in the case of the Hotel Roberts, the eight residents on the commission were told -- not asked -- that the building would be razed. Building safety trumps preservation in the ordinance.

Anthony Molloy, a planner in Provo Community Development, said the ordinance that allows for a landmark register also allows the landmarks to be torn down if they are deemed unsafe and if money is not found to restore them. So Molloy sent an e-mail to the commission members to give them the bad news.

"The commission didn't have a lot to say about it because we never met to discuss it," he said. "If somebody wants to just tear down a distinguished landmark, there is a lengthy process. But some buildings just become so deteriorated that there are no other options for them."

Nobody knows yet what will happen to the land under the old Hotel Roberts.

"We have given years of effort to fix the building," Hugo said. "Now we will see what else we can do with that property."

At the request of the owners, Hugo took a walk through the building in early September and used the Code for the Abatement of Dangerous Buildings to legally condemn the building.

"I went on a tour and found that after many attempts the building still had not improved," he said. "There were still pieces of the ceiling gone in places and the plumbing was leaking. I just went down the list."

After the building was condemned, Hugo gave about a dozen people who have had a share holding in the building in the last several years notice of the possible demolition. He also informed the directors of Provo Community and Economic Development and Mayor Lewis Billings. When no one complained, he issued a permit on Nov. 1 to bring the building down.

D. Robert Carter, a local historian, said it is tragic that the Hotel Roberts was torn down. He said it was one of the few historically significant hotels left in Utah. But he said it is a miracle that more important Provo buildings have not been razed.

"We are kind of a tear-down culture," he said. "We are extremely fortunate that the Provo Tabernacle has not been torn down and that there were people who worked hard to save Academy Square."

The Hotel Roberts was first built as a large two-story home for the Pulsipher family in 1882. A few years later, Esther Pulsipher lost her husband and started renting rooms to make ends meet, Carter said. She named it the Occidental House.

William Roberts bought the building around 1895, remodeled it and gave the building his family name. The building went through a series of renovations over the years, but Carter said one thing remained the same until a few decades ago.

"It was literally the hub of Provo," he said. "That is where everybody wanted to be. When famous people or musicians came to town, they stayed in the Hotel Roberts. It was simply lovely and everybody agreed that the service was wonderful. People came back again and again."

In 1898, a local newspaper said of the Hotel Roberts: "Of all cities in central and southern Utah none have a more satisfactory and up-to-date hotel than Provo. ... The house is steam-heated throughout, is equipped with electric bells in all rooms and is conducted in all respects as a thoroughly first-class hotel."

For the past 30 years, the Hotel Roberts has served the community as a shelter for the homeless. The local Food and Care Coalition, as well as Community Action and the LDS Church, gave out vouchers to transients to stay at the hotel.

The owners closed the hotel in 2003. For a year there was a sign in front of the door that asked for donors to help finance a renovation, but the money was never offered.

"They had no other options," Hugo said.

But Carter said local residents are bound to be upset and feel as they did when the Provo train depot was torn down about 20 years ago with no warning.

"It was the same kind of thing," he said. "The owners were looking for financing, and then they just snuck out in the night and had the thing razed. Both were beautiful buildings and could have added to Provo."

Jill Fellow can be reached at jfellow@heraldextra.com.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A1.

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