Thursday, October 06, 2011

Bloomfield in bloom

Restoration of the tower on Davis County's spectacular Second Empire courthouse, the centerpiece of the Bloomfield square, is due to be completed this fall.

Bloomfield, a Main Street community for 15 years,  is an exciting place to be these days if you're interested in historic preservation. The tower of Davis County's wonderful Second Empire courthouse is encased in scaffolding and workers are busy on the east and west sides of the square stabilizing and restoring buildings, projects involving expenditure of several hundreds of thousands in grant funding.

Workers are restoring a brick parapet and replacing the roof of a building at the southwest corner of the square.

Much already has been accomplished there in the slow and steady way Main Street operates, and more is planned once current projects are complete.

Dave and I drove down early Wednesday, as Chariton moves toward a Main Street Program application, to make what's called a "site visit," sitting down for an hour or two of conversation about Bloomfield's Main Street experience with Diana Upton-Hill, a Davis County native (above) who serves as Main Street manager.

Also on hand was Judy Combs, a pioneer in Bloomfield's Main Street program and a former manager herself.

Then there was Doug Dixon, Main Street president, now in the process of restoring his second building on the square but most widely known in southern Iowa as a member Standing Hampton, "Iowa's Premiere 70/s and 80's power pop classic rock band."

And Leon Wilkinson, a former Russell boy, president of the Davis County Historical Society and also a pioneer in Bloomfield's Main Street program.

We met in Main Street Bloomfield's spacious and airy storefront headquarters on the southwest corner of the square, talking with the four enthusiastic participants in and proponents of the program, asking questions that have been and will be asked in Chariton as it moves toward a December application deadline.

I'm not about to try to summarize here what we learned, but was impressed again with not only the results evident in Iowa's Main Street communities but also with the enthusiasm and dedication of the volunteers and staff involved.

Comparing Chariton and Bloomfield is an interesting process and we did a certain amount of that Tuesday both while visiting and while walking around the square. Chariton, for example, has more local resources, actual and potential, than Bloomfield began with. On the other hand, the Bloomfield square contains far more intact early buildings than Chariton's does and the community has been working now for many years to conserve and enhance its resources, physical and otherwise.

Walking around the square, you notice how many Bloomfield buildings, most with restored facades, retain original details.

Looking east here along the south side of the square you can see the full-length prism glass crown of a double-front street-level facade, installed in the days before electric lighting to capture light and throw it by refraction and reflection into the building's interior. There also are virtually unaltered Mesker cast iron facades on buildings on both the south and north side of the square.

On the east side of the square, we stopped to visit with Doug (left; Dave is at right) at the building he currently is renovating, now virtually complete. Its first floor contains a street-level retail space with railed mezzanine (Amish carpenters built the rail) and stair. Doug took us upstairs to look at the rehabbed apartment there, into which a tenant now is moving. It contains a dramatic high-ceilinged living room with three windows overlooking the square, generous dining area, kitchen, two bedrooms, bath and a back porch leading onto a roof-top deck which provides access to a second (exterior) stair and parking in the rear.

The great majority of this rehab project, Dixon told us, will be paid for with grant and tax credit funding. When the retail space is rented, the building should generate more than $1,000 a month in revenue.

I didn't take photos of the east-side theater and an adjoining building, both clad in Carrera glass and deep in shadow Tuesday morning, but that's a fairly amazing survival, too. Restoration of the glass is on the agenda.

These two adjoining structures, the taller I.O.O.F. building to the left and the old bank building leaning companionably against it, are among the oldest on the square. We were told that the door of the vault in the bank building came to Bloomfield from Iowa's territorial capital building. Upper floors of these buildings have been rehabbed into apartments overlooking the square using programs accessed with Main Street expertise and Diana recalled living some years ago in the third-floor appartment of the I.O.O.F. building, which she described as an amazing space with soaring ceilings and a stunning view of the courthouse.

Dave and I thought it interesting that these buildings are similar both in location on the northeast corner of the square and height configuration to Chariton's old I.O.O.F. building and Piper's next door.

Farther along the north side, you'll see several of the original triple-arched street-level facades that have survived in Bloomfield but not in Chariton where some buildings have fallen to fire and other disasters and others have been renovated. That building with checker-board patterning above the bay windows is the north-side Mesker.

Returning to the southwest corner of the square, we admired this fully restored building on the corner, then walked a half block south to look at a former church with restored exterior that is awaiting a tenant.

Our Bloomfield guides were quick to acknowledge that despite progress, the square remains prone to the same difficulties faced by all business districts in challenging economic times. There are several vacant retail/professional spaces (Main Street places a poster in the window of each stating that it is "filled with opportunity" and does what it can to market it), there are setbacks (the roof of a building on the southwest corner of the square that had been neglected by its owner collapsed recently, dooming it; a pocket park on the east side, formerly in public hands, was destroyed for no apparent purpose when Davis County sold the lot to a private party and so on).

But you get the feeling that Bloomfield is moving slowly and steadily forward --- and that's downright inspirational. And the drive on a beautiful morning to and from through scenic southern Iowa was the day's bonus.

And we came back with a promotional idea. Our Bloomfield friends found it hard to believe that there are no stoplights in Lucas County --- not one. We should capitalize on that fact and publicize it, they suggested.


Anonymous said...

Dave who?

Ed said...

I was born there, spent a few years there before moving south and east to where I grew up on the farm. I have a lot of memories of Bloomfield, especially the time I got to go all the way up to the top inside the tower of the courthouse. 'R' Place also used to be my favorite place to eat though I'm not sure it is still there. I don't drive through there very often these days but that will change soon when it will be on the way between my home and the farm.