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Time for a new preservation effort?

Posted Saturday, October 31, 2009, at 4:51 PM

Adaptive reuse.

Not the loveliest of terms, I guess, but I've been thinking its one we should start using around here more.

Since the loss of the The Livery and the Obannon and McClure homes recently, I've been thinking about the problem of preservation.

As Kathy Fairchild noted in her blog entry shortly after the McClure home was demolished, somebody should do something, and that somebody should be those of us who care about preservation.

Who is interested?

I know preservation is not an easy task.

I've talked to several people who were involved in an effort 10 or 15 years ago in Marshall to establish a historic district. They worked hard to develop the district, but ultimately did not succeed, and I know that was very disappointing for those who poured effort into the project.

That experience illustrates only one of the challenges preservationists face. In addition to resistance from opponents, economics present hard choices and big hurdles.

I admit I was once a Romantic Preservationist (any cool old building should be saved for eternity).

I got better. (I'll tell how I was cured another time.) Down that road lies disappointment and despair.

Effective preservation, I think, tempers a love for fine structures of the past with recognition that buildings have to be economically viable to survive: They have to generate enough value to justify their costs.

I look around downtown Marshall and within a block of the square can count half a dozen buildings that appear to my untrained eye to be at risk. A couple of them may be too far gone already. I don't like to imagine our town without them, but that's what eventually will happen, I'm afraid.

Maybe if some of us get together and start talking about how to encourage redevelopment and adaptive reuse where appropriate, it might not be too late to save some of our treasures.

I know it's possible. We have quite a few success stories already, with the courthouse renovation only the most visible and most recent.

I was also reminded of what's possible when my family returned to Champaign, Ill., for a visit a couple weeks ago, and as we were driving around our old neighborhood we passed Gregory School Apartments, an adaptive reuse project that was done several years before we moved there in 1997.

It's an old school that for various reasons had outlived its usefulness as a school, but the building itself was structurally sound. A developer remodeled it, and its still being used as a nice apartment building.

In 1992 it received a Heritage Award from Champaign County Preservation and Conservation Association.

It's only one of three old school buildings within blocks of where we lived that have been converted to other uses. Another old grade school near the Champaign library is apartments and the former Columbia Elementary, now Columbia Center, is still used by the school district for special education programs.

When Amy and I were first married, we lived in an old part of St. Joseph, just two doors down from what was called The Old Junior College, a school building that housed the precursor to Missouri Western State University. It was vacant, decaying, and one night we woke to the smell of smoke and flashing lights. It was burning.

Although the roof was destroyed and the third floor gutted, the rest water damaged, some developer saw potential, bought it and restored it. For years afterward, it was an apartment building for retirees. It may still be.

With some energy and imagination and money, old buildings can be reborn. If we start now, maybe we can avoid another McClure house debacle.

Say it again. Adaptive reuse. It's not poetic, but what it could do for the landscape of our towns can be.

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Another cool example of adaptive reuse. I think it demonstrates that in addition to financial and skill resources, adaptive reuse projects mainly require *imagination.*

"The Hippest Winery In Mexico Is Made Of Recycled Boats"


-- Posted by ewcrump on Sat, Mar 29, 2014, at 2:02 PM

CR and Eric,

The "old" school in Sedalia is Mark Twain on Grand Avenue. One of two schools built in the mid-1920s, I believe the same plans were used for Washington on the east side, (borders on East 6th).

Mark Twain was severely damaged in a tornado. I do not know if it was still being used as a school nor the date when it was converted to apartments.

-- Posted by upsedaisy on Tue, Dec 15, 2009, at 9:28 PM

Thanks cr. I'll have to stop by next time I'm down that way!

-- Posted by Eric Crump on Fri, Nov 6, 2009, at 3:40 PM


i think there is one of the old schools in sedalia that has been made into apartments as well.

just off ohio street on this side of town.


-- Posted by circuitrider on Fri, Nov 6, 2009, at 11:48 AM

Thanks movaldude & Nonnymus for the stories. Hope more will come forth!

I'm with ya both: Preservation without change is futile. Preservation that tries to freeze-frame the past will generally fail, I think, because the past won't come back and the structure will be out of synch with life now.

Nostalgia is both a friend and an enemy of useful preservation. It provides emotional force for projects but it also provides resistance to change.

I've talked to folks in Arrow Rock, for instance, about the lengthy, painstaking process they have to go through to do relatively routine maintenance on their buildings. Historic districts, with review committees and extensive rules, are fine in some places. Given Arrow Rock's place in history, it makes sense. But I'm not sure that's the way to go in Marshall.

-- Posted by Eric Crump on Mon, Nov 2, 2009, at 1:27 PM

Eric, one of the keys to preservation efforts are to what use the building will be put after renovation. As Movaldude hints, there's a limit to the number of B&B's a town's economy can support.

We bought an old factory building in the late 70's and relied heavily on the tax benefits from a Historical Preservation designation to 'furbish the old building. It was based almost entirely on the economics of the situation and not on a misty-eyed hope to preserve some old building. I use the word 'furbish instead of refurbish, since there was virtually no "re" in what we did. The 3-story building was gutted, jacked up and a new foundation poured to replace the old stone one.

Inside the brick shell, a new building was constructed and tied via the window openings to the old brickwork, which was repointed. What we ended up with was a brand new office building inside an old brick shell- and the entire cost was recovered in under 10 years.

For the community, they got to see the old "Acme" building again look as it did in 1902, complete with over $15k in Christmas wreaths and garland the Christmas we moved into it. It was beautiful, but the only thing remaining was the exterior brickwork. Inside was a modern, functional, elevatored office building that housed our production and administrative staff.

It's costly and a terrible hassle 'furbishing old buildings: there are many surprises when you get into them; there are many do-gooders in the community with too much time on their hands and the desire to tell the developer how to spend his money. For instance, our exterior painting was delayed for several months while 5, not 1,2,3 or 4 separate "preservation committees" wrangled about what was the proper exterior color to paint the window frames and sashes. There were even fights over the hardware to be used on our front door. All were retirees who wanted to have a say. I finally got tired of going to their meetings and teas and just picked the color I wanted.

Another big issue is that when there's only minor refurbishing or preservation, the old building has far less functional benefits to a modern user. Try running fiber optic lines in an old brick building without damaging the interior and upsetting some do-gooder group. Try installing ductwork for A/C or modern wiring in a preserved home and seeing how it can incur the wrath of somebody who lived there once hear "It isn't like I remembered it."

The tax breaks and accelerated capital recovery for preservation are key, though, to saving buildings that should be saved and have some economic future in our current society. Without that feature, most will just become museums and

places for preservationists to visit.


-- Posted by Nonnymus on Mon, Nov 2, 2009, at 12:16 PM

movaldude: You make an excellent point that some buildings can't be saved. Identifying the ones that can would be a great first step.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Mon, Nov 2, 2009, at 7:49 AM

Oh say Eric:

How about saving Eastwood School for a B&B. It would make a great B&B with wonderful landscaping. How about using the Blosser Crippled Childrens Home for a B&B. Now we just have to pass a bond issue and break a trust.

Oh well maybe on Tuesday next!

-- Posted by movaldude on Mon, Nov 2, 2009, at 1:10 AM

Guys & Gals

Well I have a different take on preservation. I tried to save the old family farmhouse but after we put in about 15,000 into the old building it was discovered that the foundation was rotting away (soft coal ate it away). So now we don't have the money and the building will come down in the future. It is just not always possible.

Another take on it was at a family reunion I was listening to one of the more well off relative's comment that they wished that the current owners of our ancestral land in Saline County would have preserved the house for our family to visit. It is now just farmed over. Well it kind of ticked me off because we stayed in a rural area keeping the family traditions alive all the while the rich cousins went to KC to find their fortune. We worked at low paying jobs and self employment so we could live on the family farm all the while the "fancy" cousins made their fortune. Well if they hadn't sold it maybe they could live in a rundown shack with an outhouse instead of the nice modern energy efficient ranch style home of the less affluent.

But Eric you are very correct in reminding us that preservation projects must be financially viable or they will fail. Kind of like that shack with the outhouse....any takers?

-- Posted by movaldude on Mon, Nov 2, 2009, at 1:06 AM


I hear ya. I'm in the same boat. No capital. Never have had. But I think Kathy's right. There are those who have money who will tackle preservation projects if they are financially viable.

When we lived in Champaign, we rented for several years from just such a developer. Michael Markstahler's company specialized in historic preservation, and he saved many a run-down old home in the Sesquicentennial Neighborhood, Champaign's oldest. Individual property owners contributed, too, and while we lived there, the neighborhood continued its transformation from a ratty, decaying place frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes to a lovely, peaceful neighborhood. It took a long time and it took a lot of money, but what it mostly took was dedication and imagination.

And those last two elements are things those of us without money can contribute to the cause.

-- Posted by Eric Crump on Sun, Nov 1, 2009, at 8:52 AM

The money needed to do these kinds of projects doesn't have to come from someone who lives here. The beautiful Frederick Hotel in Boonville was renovated by Bill Haw, who is described as a "ranching entrepreneur from Kansas City."

Don't let the failure of an effort in the past be the excuse not to put forth an effort now.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Sun, Nov 1, 2009, at 7:49 AM

Mr.Crump I agree with you that these fine buildings of yesteryear should be saved,however, people like myself don't have the money,I barely survive paycheck to paycheck, and those that do have the money have it cuz they don't care bout anyone or anything but themselves. So how do you convince Mr. Moneybags that saving these old houses and buildings is going to benifit them long term?

-- Posted by midniterebel on Sun, Nov 1, 2009, at 1:30 AM

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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.
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