Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Main Street; red and yellow paint

It's been an amazing week so far in the Main Street Iowa application process, which has kind of consumed the lives of a whole bunch of amazing people in Chariton this fall. The complex and detailed nature of the application is an indicator of just how good the program is, but last week we hit the wall when it turned out that a part of the process that had seemed simple for months was exceedingly complex, perhaps too complex to deal with as the application deadline neared.

I wasn't the only one who thought there for a day or so we were going to have to hang it up and use what's been done as the foundation for another application during the next competitive round.

Then one of the quieter subversives involved in this modest revolution just reminded everyone that "they told us we were going to hit the wall at some point" and asked, "so what's the big deal?" After that, the right people stepped up to do the right thing and the application leaped at least three tall buildings Monday in single bounds.

There are more buildings to jump over in the next two weeks, but the process is still on track --- and that's something else to be grateful for as Thanksgiving nears.

There's no guarantee that Chariton's application will be accepted this year, keep in mind, since admission to Main Street Iowa is highly competitive and there's still a huge amount to do. But we're learning a lot in the application process and are prepared to keep working, I think, until successful.

One thing we've learned by going out and talking to all sorts of people is just how supportive most Lucas Countyans are of efforts to move the place we love forward. That's the important thing.


Speaking of Main Street, I'm wishing now that I had taken a decent photo of the red and yellow paint job applied earlier this fall to the west-side building, built in 1904 by D.Q. Storie, that houses our Mexican restaurant. The photo up top of the Civil War monument is there because if you enlarge it to "original size" you can barely see the bright facade through the trees in the distance.

I'm cranky about the paint job for a couple of reasons related to preservation. First, it's a mistake to paint a brick and/or stone surface that is in good shape because, once painted, it's very difficult to go back. Sandblasting, especially when old brick is involved, can do more harm than good because it removes the fired-on surface of a brick and allows elements to enter the softer core.

And then the west side procession of Lockwood, Storie, Oppenheimer and Hollinger & Larimer buildings, all built simultaneously after the great January 1904 fire that destroyed the Mallory Opera Block and adjacent structures, formed a remarkable suite of intact commercial buildings reflecting trends and preferences at the turn of the 20th century. The paint job changed that.

But as Granny used to say, there's no point in crying over spilled milk. Some hate the new paint; others like it. It's bright, it's cheerful and it was a good marketing tactic. There's no doubt now about where that restaurant is located. But it's still a good idea to raise consciousness about historic structures in an effort to ensure that changes are made thoughtfully and respectfully. That's something we're not very good at --- yet.

That paint job also has become an interesting part of the story the town square has to tell if you look around carefully, ask a few questions and think about it for a while.

The post and shingle arcades that front several buildings --- another story --- are criticized now and then (by me, too) because they look outdated and obscure original street-level facades. But they were built for a reason and reflect tastes and trends of a not-too-distant era. Plus they offer appreciated shelter. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be replaced at some point with something more in character with the facades they front, however, just that the reasoning behind what's there needs to be understood when considering something different.

And there are other stories. The cast metal cornices that once crowned many buildings on the square were removed and many other modifications made to facades because they seemed old-fashioned during the middle of the 20th century. Now, the revised facades look dated and we wish the originals had been left alone.

The squat blond-brick bank building that replaced the wonderful Union Block on the northwest corner of the square reflects one man's 1970s view of a progressive county seat business district. I want the Union Block back, but that's not practical. So what's there has to be allowed to tell its story just as it is.

And so it goes. None of this represents an argument that buildings should not be restored as nearly as possible to their original condition, or that streetscapes should not be redesigned, because they should. It's just that part of the process involves allowing buildings to tell their stories --- and listening as they do.


Norm Prince said...

Just wondered if you know why the county fenced in the monument ??


Frank D. Myers said...

Hi Norm --- The Daughters of Union Veterans put the fence up in 1934. Don't know why, since it's not high enough to prevent anyone who wants to get close to the monument from just stepping over.

Ken said...