Saturday, October 08, 2011

Bricks and mortar fantasies

Crown of the Eikenberry building's facade.

As some fantasize about sex, I fantasize about old buildings --- perhaps a factor of increasing age. The latter, while not as exciting as the former, probably is safer since I’ve neither the money nor the expertise to shift fantasy into gear. Old buildings are an expensive habit.

Four objects of my desire are on the Chariton square and some of my fantasies, a little twisted.

Take the Hotel Charitone, for example --- the most frequent town square topic of bricks and mortar gossip (the inimitable Rev. Sara Palmer declared gossip sacramental Monday night when we shared a table at the Interchurch Council meeting; I’m still working on the theological ramifications of that).

It would take only a couple of million to restore this boarded up giant to its 1920s splendor and my dream is to do that secretly. No one would know who was behind the restoration, or what the intended end result was to be. Can you imagine the gnashing of teeth?

Then I’d take on the westside Richardson Romanesque Ensley-Crocker block (with Stanton building on the side). Lofty apartments upstairs, a gallery-bookstore, along the lines of Oskaloosa’s Book Vault, down. Nothing insidious here.

But when I take on the “Good Luck” building at the southwest corner of the square, rambling down toward the railroad tracks with a perfect little townhouse as its final punctuation mark, I’d like to try the tattoo parlor rumor on for size, just to find out how Chariton would react.

Finally --- the Eikenberry building (which I call the Crozier building) at the southeast corner of the square. This magnificent brick block with restrained Richardson Romanesque elements has almost as much presence as the Charitone, in part because the two buildings to its north are lower and plainer so the Eikenberry appears almost to sail alone.

Can’t you see the second floor as one magnificent living space (served by an elevator and stair just inside the south door) flooded with light from rows of windows on the west and south? This is fantasy, remember.

Current occupants would be welcome to remain, but all those boarded up window replacements would have to go, as would the shingle and post arcade across the front. This building cries out for awnings. (If you look carefully, you can still see “Watkins Toggery” marching across the top of the north storefront just above the arcade roofline.)

I call this the Crozier Building, although it was built with Eikenberry cash, because J.T. and his children, Mary and Robert, were in business at this location for about 90 years, from 1886 until 1974. My maternal grandparents did a majority of their Saturday night trading here, exchanging farm produce for dry goods and more. My mother and her sisters all clerked here nights and on Saturdays while attending high school.

According to Crozier accounts, J.T. first leased the frame building on this site from Bonnett & Copeland during 1886. Daniel Eikenberry, among Chariton’s earliest movers and shakers, bought the building during 1893, then promptly died.

Because Daniel (left) had not married until he was 49, he left two children not yet of age, Sarah and William, as well as his widow, Elizabeth (Alexander) Eikenberry. With Henry Kubitshek as their trustee, the Eikenberry family decided to proceed with construction of the new building that Daniel had planned.

The old frame building was moved into the street and business continued as usual as construction of its replacement progressed. The Croziers moved into the south store front prior to Dec. 1, 1894 --- the date still visible high in the façade.

Two generations of Eikenberry descendants, William and Bill, continued the family business tradition in Chariton, but all are gone now. We’re out of Croziers, too. But their wonderful old building, still full of potential, and luckily street-level occupants, remains.

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