The historic Ott Hotel, 305 Travis St. in downtown Liberty, has been closed by the city fire marshal. The building, which has stood for nearly a century, has been deemed unlivable due to numerous structural issues that are believed to pose a significant risk to its inhabitants.
The decision to shut down the Ott Hotel came after the City of Liberty Fire Marshal’s Office, which falls under Fire Chief Brian Hurst, sent inspectors to conduct a thorough examination of the building’s condition. According to the fire marshal, the situation was dire and worse than anticipated.
“It was just overwhelming the amount of things that were falling apart, that were just structurally unsound. You can’t even imagine. Floors that were rotted, staircases that were faulty, exits that were either blocked or nailed shut and windows that don’t operate. The people who are living there have extension cords running power to their rooms. They have no power in their actual rooms,” Hurst said.
These problems left the fire marshal with no other option but to close the hotel, forcing a couple of dozen residents to relocate. While this is causing a hardship on the residents, Hurst said his duty is to protect the residents’ lives as well as the lives of firefighters and first responders who might have to respond to a fire emergency.
Hurst explained that the City tried to work with the building’s owners to correct issues and bring the building back up to code, and even suggested a fire watch system where the hotel would employ someone to sit on each floor of the two-story building at night to watch for fires.
“A fire watch means that there’s somebody there constantly awake at all hours of the day and night on the first floor and the second floor, so if there is a fire then they can help to get those people out before it becomes a raging fire and they can’t escape. They didn’t want to do any of that, as far as I know, so it went to the legal system and now it’s at the court portion,” Hurst said.
On Thursday, Oct. 12, sheets of plywood had been attached to the windows on the first floor as residents were coming and going as they loaded their belongings into U-Hauls and trucks. The City of Liberty has filed a civil case against the Ott Corporation, represented by its president Kelly McCain. A hearing will be held on Oct. 17 in the Liberty County Court at Law.
Bluebonnet News will provide an update after the hearing on Tuesday.
About the Ott Hotel
The Ott Hotel first opened in 1928 and quickly became a Texas landmark. Located next to the railroad tracks and in proximity to First Liberty Bank, Liberty City Hall and the Liberty County Courthouse, the hotel was built in the oil boom years, which brought a lot of travelers to and from Liberty.
The hotel also earned a designation as a Texas Historic Landmark from the Texas Historic Commission. A plaque posted outside the hotel explains its history:
“Louisiana native John Joshua Ott (1867-1939) and his wife Sallie Wiggins Ott (1874-1963) of San Jacinto County hired contractor Elza Burch to build the hotel. Completed in late 1928 adjacent to the Texas & New Orleans Railroad tracks and very near the depot, the Ott Hotel was well positioned to serve train passengers and was known as a drummer hotel, named for the traveling salesmen of the day. Its location was also ideally suited for automobile tourists on the Old Spanish Trail (later State Highway 3 and U.S. Highway 90), as well as those with business in the nearby county courthouse.
“The hotel’s original design included 50 rooms in an L-shaped building footprint, with community baths in the middle of the long hall. Dining room and parlor space was later converted into additional rooms. A sign painted on the bricks on the side along the railroad attracted new arrivals. This two-story brick building features paired windows and has a prominent four-bay front porch with tapered wood columns, a low-pitch roof and brick detailing. Craftsman-style exposed rafter tails outline the porch and the entire building. Several managers operated the hotel, and the property remained in the Ott Family until 2002.”