Looking at a design for the new storefront for a building at 600 High Street, John Stanley proposed a small modification.
Stanley, who is building the storefront, explained his plan was to add molding to a section of the front to provide an added bit of style to a design already brimming with late Victorian character.
“I like it,” Rick Dietz said, a three-word comment that Alan Wright immediately repeated.
The storefront will replace garage doors, cement blocks and particle board that now cover the 119-year-old building’s entrance. The plan and Stanley’s presence mean the stop-and-go renovation of the building is again in full go mode.
Partners Dietz, Bill Harmon, Dave Hill and Wright are renovating the building that has suffered years of neglect. And the storefront will be the next evidence of progress noticeable to those traveling by on Sixth and High streets.
The partners know there is curiosity about the progress on the building, in part, because of the city’s participation in saving the building.
With the sidewalk on the building’s east side fenced off because of bricks falling from its exterior, the 1894 structure was to be razed in November 2010. At the last minute, the partners approached the Baldwin City Council with a plan to save it.
They asked that instead of spending $53,000 on its demolition, the city provide the partners with a $25,000 grant so they could renovate the building.
It was an unprecedented leap of faith on the council’s part, Dietz said. But he said it was the right decision.
“We saved the city the money it was going to spend on the demolition,” he said. “They would have nothing to show for it but a vacant lot that would have probably been here for years. They’re already collecting tax revenue on this building, and we’re going to have a business in here that helps circulate dollars in the community.”
The partners developed a three-phase renovation plan, Dietz said. The first phase was to stabilized what was an unsafe building.
“The very next day after the city council’s approval, repairs started to make the building safe,” Dietz said. “Work started right in the middle of winter.”
The work involved partial replacement of the failing north wall, which had been open to the elements since fire damaged the roof. Part of the wall’s limestone was replaced with concrete blocks and the rest was given new joint mortar.
With that completed, work halted as the partners worked to have the building placed on the Register of Historic Kansas Places, Dietz said. That required a lot of paperwork showing the building was worthy of the designation. It also required the partners provide renovation plans for review, some of which had to wait until they had a better idea of how the building would be used.
With its place on the register secured, work restarted. Now, the focus is getting the bottom floor ready for a tenant. It is work that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“We started getting a lot of interest,” Dietz said about the recent installation of windows on the building’s east side and top floor.
The next exterior improvement will be the storefront, and Dietz and Wright believe that will cause even more excitement. With the historical designation, the storefront has to be period correct. The question was what period, as the store’s entry went through several changes during its first 50 years.
The design chosen, with its three doors and large windows set back a few inches from the front façade, recreates the earliest entry into the building.
“It’s the 1894 to about 1905 front,” Wright said.
Free Masons, the structure’s builders and first owners, and Odd Fellows passed through the buildings doors in those early days to a second-floor lodge the two organizations shared. After World War I, the American Legion met there, too.
The second floor, now divided with a wall but once completely open, was a community room used for wedding receptions, sock hops and other events, Dietz said.
The divided first floor was home to many businesses, including a grocery store, pool hall and feed store.
The plan is to lease the renovated bottom floor as retail space. Once that is done, the top floor will be remodeled into three apartments, Dietz said, adding the second-floor plans could change with the needs of the ground-floor tenant.
The new front and walls should be complete in December, perhaps in time for an open house during Baldwin City’s annual parade of lights, he said.
“We’re trying to figure out what retail will do well downtown,” Dietz said. “Traffic is good — it’s on two main streets. Parking is limited.
“We want to find the right tenant for the space. It doesn’t do anyone any good to have a tenant in here that doesn’t make it.”