Old building needs love
Visitor Question: We have a beautification fund in our town that started as a result of junk cars sitting on abandoned lots. Almost the whole town (about 100 people) backed this and donated money.
We also have a very old brick building (built in 1917) that was a bank, then the post office, but now sits empty. The beautification board wants to use our dollars to tear down this beautiful old building.
Some of us are trying to stop this, as this is part of our history. I have been in touch with the state historical society and a few others who I hope can help.
I would just like another opinion of what we can possibly do to keep this building. By the way, we still have junk cars everywhere...
Editors' Reply: First of all, congratulations on living in a small town that has a beautification board and even better, a beautification fund.
Abandoned cars are indeed very bad for a town's image, as well as probably being bad for morale and bad for sanitation. Image is important because it often governs how much people are willing to invest in homes or businesses in your town.
As for your historic bank and post office building, probably it is quite short-sighted to want to tear it down.
We say "probably" because sometimes demolishing an historic structure, whether a commercial building or a home, is the only practical choice if the structural damage has become too severe.
If you haven't had any informal evaluations of the structural safety and integrity of the historic building done, you might see if you can find a good building contractor or a retired engineer to spend some time checking out the building. If its structure is mostly all right, it's definitely worth saving, no matter how bad it looks at the moment.
By the way, we should say that even in small towns, buildings have owners, and owners have property rights. If you can't find the owner or the last known owner's heirs, that's one problem, but if you can find the owner, I would urge you to get in touch with that person and try to get him or her on board with looking for a solution with you.
You are right to go to your state historic preservation office for help. They may be able to help document the historic value of the building, and then that information will be useful in drumming up public support for preservation.
One thing working in your favor may be that a brick building is somewhat expensive to demolish, so perhaps the beautification board will blink when they discover how much someone would charge to do this work. Or perhaps cheap labor where you live may defeat this argument, but it's worth a thought.
Now you asked about the possible uses of the building, if it is saved. Keep in mind that none are easily accomplished if there is little or no market for commercial property in your town, but it would be worth looking through out lists at the adaptive reuse page.
Also remember that instead of a commercial use, beautiful old buildings are much in demand for residential purposes. You might think of advertising on a website for someone interested in a pretty brick building. People sometimes come from across the nation or across the world to make a home out of a spacious commercial building. Again, obviously you have to have the owner's permission to do this.
So solving the mystery of who owns this building, if it is not your town or village, seems like a high priority right now.
The possible economic benefits of historic preservation are great, so we applaud your efforts.
Subscribe to our monthly e-mail newsletter, called USEFUL COMMUNITY PLUS, which provides you with short features or tips about timely topics for neighborhoods, towns and cities, community organizations, rural environments, and our international friends. Unsubscribe any time. Give it a try.