Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The History of the Frankie Veltri Thanksgving Dinner - damnpamn's Blog - Blogster

The History of the Frankie Veltri Thanksgving Dinner - damnpamn's Blog - Blogster

I found this at the WCHS News site.  The family also had a link to it from their facebook page.

Jan. 18, 1993 - Charleston's Holley Hotel Demolished
By Heath Harrison
November 10, 2013


Jan 18, 1993, the nearly 80-year history of Charleston’s Holley Hotel
came to an end, as 73 pounds of explosives reduced the seven-story
building to a pile of rubble in the city’s first controlled implosion.

Early years
hotel, located at 1008 Quarrier Street, was built by brothers Pat and
John Crowley in 1914 and named for Charleston Mayor James A. Holley. It
was once part of a string of downtown hotels hosting travelers to
Charleston. While not as luxurious as the Ruffner, Daniel Boone, or other city establishments, the Holley was still considered a first-class hotel in its early years.

Frankie Veltri
The Holley’s best-known owner came in 1970, when Frankie Veltri purchased the building from the Crowley family.

was a fixture in downtown Charleston in the latter half the 20th
century. Having had to drop out of school in the third grade due to a
learning impairment that made him unable to read or write, he was a
self-made millionaire, who, upon returning from World War II, built his
fortune by opening a series of poolrooms and clubs around town.

Veltri, who also owned the adjacent, smaller Worthy Hotel, converted the Holley to a residential hotel after his purchase.

was famous for his generosity and humanitarian efforts around town,
offering free Thanksgiving dinners every year to the city’s poor. The
dinners were started in in the 1960s at his home and served to a few
families, then moved to the Holley as the crowds grew. By the time of
the hotel’s closing, the annual event drew hundreds of needy to the
hotel, where they would be served meals created from the truckload of
food Veltri ordered each year.

A social hub
Holley’s downtown location made it a popular place of residence for
many in the 1970s, including West Virginia Secretary of State A. James
Manchin, future U.S. Rep. Bob Wise and future Charleston Mayor Danny

"He had a diverse crowd there. It was a catch point for a
lot of different people," the Rev. Jim Lewis, who was a minister at St.
John's Episcopal Church near the Holley, said.

The biggest source
of income for the hotel was from miners suffering from black lung
disease, who came to Charleston from across the state to get exams for
workers compensation. None of the other hotels would take the miners,
but Veltri made arrangements with the state to put the men, numbering
about 50 a week, up for their two-night visits.

Refuge for the poor
the state ended the black lung arrangement, the Holley’s income dried
up, but Veltri kept the building running into the 1980s, offering the
hotel’s 200 rooms to the city’s poor. He charged only $5 a week, but, if
the residents could not afford it, he let them stay for free.

who created the Manna Meal soup kitchen and helped to found the
Covenant House shelter behind St. John's, came to know many of those who
stayed at the hotel.

He said Veltri had a genuine concern for the Holley's residents.

"He really cared about people who were on the street and down and out," Lewis said.

withheld judgment for the circumstances that led residents to the
hotel. Some of the hotel's tenants worked at the Outhouse Inn, a strip
club that shared the Holley's basement. Others battled addictions, while
some simply had no place else to go.

Lewis remembers the story
of one who had a profound impact on his ministry, a man who ate meals at
the church and had a sister who was a member of the congregation.

Lewis said he learned of the man's history and what led him to the Holley.

discovered he had been put away in Spencer because he was gay," Lewis
said. "This was in the early craziness that they did with people."

said learning the man's story led to his ministering to Charleston's
gay community, including performing blessing for gays, something which
generated a great deal of controversy for him at the time.

"It was powerful," he said of the experience.

Final years
hotel was not without controversy. The Holley gained an unsavory
reputation for the numerous incidents that made the headlines in its
final decades, including a body found in the basement, two residents
falling from the building’s top floor, suicides, stabbings and attempted

On concerns of safety at the Holley, Lewis said Veltri did all he could to protect residents at the building.

it safe? It was as safe as it could be for them," Lewis said, citing
the staff Veltri kept at the building and efforts to care for the

City officials sought to close the dilapidated hotel
and the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority bought the building from
Veltri in 1990, after a long series of negotiations on price and a
guarantee that the hotel’s residents would not be turned out onto the

The last residents of the hotel moved out in 1992 and the
building was gutted and prepared for its demolition the following year.

Lewis said he was disappointed to see the Holley close, since it was an example of the kind of help to the poor the city needed.

was sad when the hotel went down," he said, noting that the Holley's
former location remains undeveloped and is currently used as a parking

After closing
Following the Holley’s
closing, Veltri continued holding his annual Thanksgiving dinners for
the needy, paying $25,000 to install a kitchen in a Dickinson Street
building to meet the event’s needs. A 2000 dinner honoring his
charitable work brought him messages of praise from President Bill
Clinton and Pope John Paul II.

Veltri died on Aug. 27, 2001 at
the age of 78, following a long battle with prostate cancer. He left
behind a portion of his fortune to establish a fund so that the dinners
would continue.

The annual dinners are hosted to this day. More information can be found about this year’s event, set for Nov. 28, on the dinner's Facebook page .

Charleston Gazette, WV Culture Center, WV Humanities Council. Special
thanks to Rev. Lewis for sharing his memories of the Holley for this

What are your memories of Veltri and the Holley? Stop by our Facebook page and join in on the conversation.

week's video, courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives at the
Culture Center, features vintage WCHS reports from the late 1980s/early
'90s by Alan Cohen and Stephanie Holland on the hotel's final days,
followed by a report from Bob Aaron, featuring a crowd of spectators,
including A. James Manchin and a young Danny Jones, watching the
building's demolition.

Remember When: Jan. 18, 1993 - Charleston's Holley Hotel Demolished

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