In the era when downtown Youngstown was a thriving retail center and the focal point of the city, perhaps the grandest of the downtown hotels was the Hotel Pick Ohio, part of the Albert Pick chain of hotels. When it opened in 1913 as an eight story building on West Boardman Street, it was known as the Hotel Ohio. A few years later in 1916, a new Tod House opened on Central Square. By the 1920’s five floors were added to bring the building to its present thirteen floors, 148 foot height.
Albert Pick started operating the hotel in the 1940’s. One of the signature additions they made to the hotel was a three panel mural painted by Louis Grell titled “The Kingdom of Ceres,” which may still be seen to this day. Along with the stately lobby, and luxurious lodgings and service, the hotel featured the Crystal Room, known for its buffet, its welsh rarebit, linen table clothes and napkins, and chefs with tall white hats.
Pick also introduced a chain of Purple Cow Sandwich Shops in his hotels. One could buy a Purple Cow Hamburger for forty cents and the restaurant was open twenty four hours a day. The one on the ground floor of what was now the Hotel Pick Ohio acquired a notorious reputation as a mob hangout, particularly in the early morning hours.
The hotel was a gathering place for meetings and conventions. On July 14, 1963 the hotel hosted the Slovak Catholic Sokol Convention. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy spoke to the group that day. He commended the attendees:
“Clearly, the United States would be a poorer nation today, economically, intellectually, culturally and in every other way, if it were not for the two-million of our citizens who are of Slovak birth or ancestry. And, needless to add, those two million would be poorer if it weren’t for the work of the Catholic Sokol throughout the nation.”
My only visit to the hotel was as a high school senior being honored by the Mahoning Valley Medical Society in 1972. I remember gawking at the mural and all the wood paneling and impressive service. By this time the hotel was changing. Although it went through a renovation in 1968, the clientele was YSU female students (only men lived in its only dormitory at that time, Kilcawley Hall) and increasingly, those who needed low income housing.
In 1982, the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority (YMHA) took over the building, now known as Amedia Plaza. In 2002, a renovation overseen by Ricciuti, Balog & Partners created larger, but fewer apartments for senior citizens. New heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing was installed while preserving the beautiful lobby and mural. YMHA also houses its corporate offices in this building.
It was heartening to learn in researching this piece that not only is the building that once was the Hotel Pick Ohio still standing, but that Youngstown once again has a downtown hotel, with the opening of the Hilton DoubleTree in the old Stambaugh Building, another Youngstown treasure. One hopes this reflects a resurgence of life in downtown Youngstown, recalling something of the city’s former years.