Historic Place Status

I am trying to put together a pitch for as many of the building and home owners as I can convince to apply for historic place status. I don’t know if everyone is going to be willing, but like my grandfather says, if you throw a rock at a greenhouse, you’re bound to break some glass. Not everyone is going to say no. Right? It would be so good for this town. We would be able to get so much help with funding for repairs, maintenance, and more tourism resources.

Before I can bring this up at a town hall meeting, though, I have to be able to answer people’s questions about what and why I want to do this. I can’t just say, “It’s for the good of the town!” even though it is. Aside from being a cliché, it doesn’t really say anything about the benefits. I’ll have to have an answer when they come back with, “But why?”

I called the State Historic Preservation Office to find out what I had to do. It is going to be a long process, true. First we have to fill out preliminary paperwork, and then we will get a determination if we meet the criteria—although the criteria is basically a) is it old b) does it still reasonably look like it did c) is it significant in some way? Since there is a whole Main Street preservation arm here in Illinois, I assume we have the significant part down. And the buildings here were mostly built in the 1950s, so they’re old enough. Not much has been done—not for lack of need, honestly—as far as renovations go, so we should be good there too.

If we’re up for consideration, they have a council meeting to discuss our applications. If we make the cut here, then everything gets forwarded to the National Park service in Washington, DC for the final review. If it happens, then we get added to the registry. Then we can get access to grants for renovations, we get access to information on how to renovate and architectural plans, and there are tax incentives depending on what type of building it is.

Plus, I don’t think people know that they still maintain control of their own building. In other words, the government doesn’t get involved if Bob wants to sell the hardware store or if he wants to remodel it in some way. Nobody has to restore their property to exactly what it looked like when the building was new, either. On the other hand, if they do decide to renovate, they can get federal money. We can get reimbursed for things like architectural plans, too. I know some people have been nervous because their buildings are not exactly up to handicapped accessible codes, and we can get special compensation to get them up to code there too.

I really can’t see a downside here.

I hope that I sound confident and informed when I go before the town in a couple of weeks. Wish me luck!

A Brick Wall

Building restoration is a hot topic in my circles, and these are starting to expand. More people are becoming knowledgeable about the destructive nature of urban decay and the importance of renovation and restoration. They care about their environment, but haven’t had the opportunity to express it. They don’t know how to help. If we close our eyes to the problem, however, it will not go away. It is one of those insidious conditions that can only get worse and start to effect the quality of life. So, I have devoted my time and energy to keeping up appearances in a sense, and helping foster my town’s preservation.

We can all do our part as small gestures can certainly add up. Any effort on the part of residents and landlords to improve conditions is more than welcome. It takes a group to make a difference, otherwise it becomes an overwhelming enterprise–way too large for one man. Let me give you an example. Many buildings have dirty exteriors, even when the inside is more than acceptable. It gives a neighborhood a dog-eared quality and affects property values. It brings down an entire community.

It is sometimes rather quick and easy to remedy the unsightly problem. If each building owner elects to use a pressure washer to clean the exterior, the job would be done in no time at all. A simple solution! Appearances would improve and certainly impact local lagging spirits. They would be newly proud of their refurbished areas. A good hose on a brick wall is a ready symbol for restoration success. We should all literally take up the project. Let’s put it on a poster!

Power washers are easy to find. You can buy or rent them and they are super effective. In capable hands, they will rid surfaces of years of build-on grime and decay. They will give luster and shine to even the oldest façade. I propose a day when the city will become alert to the cleansing activity and participate in one way or another. People can sign up for a particular building or area and those behind the scenes can promote the efforts. Onlookers are fine as they will spread the word.

This kind of organized approach can be done several times during a season until the cumulative effects are reached and the desired results apparent. I love group projects as they help to gain new adherents to the matter at hand. Regional restoration is no small goal, but it can happen if the right people get involved, particularly local politicians and business leaders.

Fundraising is also a way to get the community to kick in to the value of restoration. It can provide the power washers, for example, and even construction tools and supplies, which as you know are vast. It can build over time from modest beginnings and have a real impact long term. It is all about public participation and acknowledgement of the value of tackling a seemingly large task—one that is close to my heart.

My New Year’s Resolution

I am on a mission to save my town. I can’t do it single handedly, but I can do a lot of promotion and spreading the word to others. I can do research and provide data and vital information to builders, designers, and architects. I can keep building owners apprised of the important issues at stake. In essence, I am a one-man public relations band with a message of vital importance. Sometimes, I get so fully absorbed in the whole enterprise, however that I neglect my own health. I don’t think it is a bad thing to be obsessed by something that requires attention, but on the other hand, if I am not at my best, I cannot provide good counsel on the subject.

Some projects and situations sit idle and no one takes the reigns. When it falls in your lap, you know you have a responsibility. I actually elected to become a spokesperson for renovation in my region and I didn’t balk at all at the task. The time is ripe for motivating others to the matter at hand. Urban decay, literally and metaphorically, should be the enemy within. In the meantime, I am taking a look at my lack of diet and exercise that is starting to compromise my health.

When you gain a few pounds and it is out of the ordinary for you, it is often because you are not going to the gym or on those long power walks. Your brain has been absorbed by other things and the weight gain hasn’t registered. Now that I have noticed it after the holidays in particular, I am going to take quick action. The first order of business is to buy a bathroom scale.

When you don’t own one, you can kid yourself about your clothes not fitting and make excuses. When you jump on a nice, new digital model, the truth be told and action must be implemented. I am going to take time out of my busy schedule to learn to eat better and drop those pounds fast. I owe it to my cause to get in shape so I can pursue more important issues.

The best approach in my mind is to be disciplined and methodical. You set before you a regime to follow to the letter. It can consist of a lower calorie diet than you are used to and a day or two more of exercise in combination. You use the scale as a benchmark of your success. You have to be realistic about goals of course and not expect overnight magic. A few pounds a week is a good objective.

I am looking forward to a new me in the New Year. We all make resolutions, but mine will be a keeper. I don’t want health issues to mar my ability to move forward with my cause. Weight can creep up on you if you don’t heed the warnings and cause stress on the body and the mind—no matter your age. I don’t want to even approach the subject of rampant obesity in America!

Keeping the Lights On

Illinois as a state is not the warmest region of the union. The mid-west is notorious for freezing temperatures during the winter onslaught. It comes like clockwork year after year. More than once a month in the high season before spring, the airport is closed and people get stranded. In fact, many dread the word “winter” more than anything else. They learn to be prepared for the worst or face the consequences.

When the power goes out, it can be a matter of life or death. While many homes and offices have backup generators, many do not. I had to make the decision recently after a few bouts with failed electricity. I had not thought about it much prior to one particular episode. I just got out a ton of blankets and got into a cozy bed.

After a particularly bad winter storm, however, when people were snowed in, I realized the importance of this handy item. It doesn’t cost that much relative to the suffering you receive at the hands of Mother Nature, but it will run in the thousands. Manufacturers offer a bevy of models, ranged from the small portable generators suitable for camping through to huge systems that are designed to power your entire home or office. A home unit provides quiet, reliable power in a pinch. You should know your needs before buying. Let’s say you decide, or get a consultant to suggest, about a 40 kW unit.

Here is what you will get: an emergency standby model suitable for larger homes and small commercial buildings. It will run on natural gas. The sound level approximates that of an idling car and not more as it has an acoustically-designed aluminum enclosure. The generator is akin to an automotive engine and it may be designated as 5.4L V8—pretty powerful. It will also have a digital control system that facilitates service and maintenance. The LCD display will tell you what you need to do at a glance and can be tied to your computer, tablet, or smartphone—super convenient. The unit is resistant to corrosion.

There’s more! This particular generator as an auto shut off feature, high coolant temperature, low oil pressure, and what is known as overspeed. You can add on a transfer switch and generally customize the system for easy use. It comes with forklift delivery to your door. It is the Generac Protector and it does the job! There is only one drawback and that it does not have its usual tax advantages in the state of Illinois. Elsewhere, check with your dealer as this feature saves you money.

So, this is but one example, but it shows how you can take charge, fork over some big bucks, and secure your safety and well-being during the winter. If you have a family, it is a requirement to be sure. If you have children or elderly people in your home, it is that much more important. Many older structures do not come with such wonder machines, and any upgrades and renovations to them should include one in the budget. It is important for posterity, of course, but also a mandatory action of the moment.

An Unlikely Source for Kitchen Appliances

Excavation unearths many interesting things depending upon where you look. You enter a realm of time past and bring objects and detritus into the present. Surprises are in store! It is a kind of quasi-historical endeavor as it brings to light ways of life that have gone before. This is an activity I relish. You never know what you will find, but if you dig enough and spread yourself over a big enough territory, you get the makings of some pretty unique displays. Urban archeology, anyone?

Yes, displays. Some of the things you might find would fill a museum of life, a tribute to practical ways and mores of your region. Think of old egg beaters and toasters of early 20th century design; think of old style pressure cookers, can openers, blenders, and juicers. Any items that have been transformed by time and have become nostalgic memories. I personally find this fascinating. I would designate a building downtown on Main Street for my cause. Surely an abandoned space would be the perfect match. Some of you might balk at the idea, thinking “this is no museum,” but what is the definition after all.

A museum, according to an online dictionary, is an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value; a place where objects are exhibited. I see it as a repository for my “junk” relics that may well stand the test of time. Who doesn’t want a glimpse at what came before?

To make it more legitimate and authentic, I would group the displays into categories and accompany the items – whether kitchen or bathroom items, personal care objects, and tools and implements. People would see how and where they were used and stored. If I wanted a really comprehensive collection, I could no doubt find fill-in pieces on eBay.

The best part would be to charge a small admission and also ask for donations. The money would go for building restoration in order of need and importance. We all know that the town cries out for help, and -this could draw attention to the on-going project.

The cost to run the museum would be minimal. I would get the city to “loan” or lease the abandoned building at $1/per year. Volunteers would greet visitors and help assemble exhibits. With the right press, people would know about the efforts and jump in to support the cause. Hopefully, they would find and donate items of their own. It could grow exponentially with satellite museums placed strategically around town!

Revitalizing one’s town is a sacred cause for me and one I hope will rub off on others who read this blog. Meanwhile, I hope to amuse and tantalize you with stories and information that will keep you coming back. A project as enormous as the one I envision takes a lot of talent; it takes a village. But it must, in fact, be done. I cannot sit back and watch deterioration takes its toll. It is time to sit up and take notice, and action, of needed renovation and restoration.

The Beauty of Stained Glass

The Beauty of Stained Glass

Some of the stores here on Main Street have stained glass windows displaying their street address. My family owns the floral shop, and I remember being behind the counter as a kid and watching the light catch the tinted glass, and all the beautiful colors it made. It has always been one of my favorite things about the store. I am not sure, but I think all the buildings in this section did at some point. It certainly looks that way based on the old photographs I have come across and through casual conversations with some older residents. Not everybody still has theirs—the movie theater’s got phased out when they “updated” about thirty years ago, and at least one or two of the vacant buildings now have plywood where those address markers were. That’s depressing. It is yet another thing I want to restore to this area if I can get the opportunity. I am hoping everyone will get on board. Some of what they can do is so amazingly cool, and I think it adds a tremendous amount of class and style to the revitalization project.

I doubt stained glass street numbers on their own will draw tourists or customers to our town and to Main Street specifically, but it will be something people remember. I’d like to make this town really stand out. I want to get all those little details right, the ones that make a place look both unique and timeless. It will reflect the heritage of the great place I live, and showcase our sincere desire to be true to the authenticity of both the time period and the neighborhood aesthetic.

I’d like for each building to design their own color scheme but keep the font and general style uniform through all the storefronts. Clearly this would have to be a majority approved kind of thing, but I’m hopeful that when the time comes, I can have somebody from the Preservation Society there to back me up and provide more of a historical context. I’m always afraid that I’m going to present an idea and my only justification is, “because it looks cool!” Since I don’t want to sound like that, I’ve been doing some research into stained glass. Some of the designs are amazing. If you google stained glass windows, you’ll see what I mean. Shapes, patterns, pictures, and entire stories depicted through tiny fragments of glass. Technically, one thing I have discovered is that the windows are leadlight, but nobody calls it that. Leadlight glass is pretty much stained glass but not in a religious setting, and were made in a less complex style using easier techniques. Hardly anybody uses the term anymore but it is more accurate, so I thought you might like to sound well-read and interesting at your next party or something. It’s called leadlight because the pieces of glass (or maybe were, I am not really friends with anybody who makes them, so I can’t ask) are supported by lead. With the popularity of Tiffany style lamps and the popularity of Art Deco, the two terms became basically synonymous.

So there you have it. Plan 999: restore stained glass address windows.

They Don’t Build ‘em Like They Used To

Most of the buildings here on Main Street—the ones that haven’t fallen apart or been renovated to death—like the movie theater—have such amazing detail that it is hard to imagine why anybody wouldn’t want to restore them to their original glory.

For example, they’ve all got two really fantastic window display areas—one on each side of the front doors. People used to take such pride in their displays. My favorite was always at Christmastime as a kid. The store owners really went all out! I pretty much made my wishlist for Santa while standing out in front of the toy store every year. My grandfather used to put a small pine tree in the window of their florist shop, and my grandmother and mother used to decorate it together. Every year, they had a new theme and people would come by just to see what they’d done. Of course, they hardly ever walked out empty handed, which is why the display was so effective! Most stores being built now don’t even have window display areas, or they cover them up with banner ads. It makes them dark and uninviting.

The upper half of the display window is called a transom. I have no idea why. But that’s where if we had a sale, the banner went. Some places had that area painted or decorated with the store’s name or logo.

In between the display, windows were handsomely carved columns. They were usually painted in a theme that corresponded to the store. Going across the top was a lintel (I didn’t know that word, either, and came across it doing research), which is basically supports going horizontally above the columns. They all had these fancy rosettes going across them, which I thought was just decorative. I mean, they certainly make things look fancy, don’t they? Turns out they were to also secure two pieces of the lintel together. Some stores painted them in a complementary color, and others kept them the same color as the lintel. As the florist, my family always had the lintel and columns painted green, and the rosettes painted in red and pink. I always thought it looked cool.

I think the neatest thing, though, is the cornice. It’s a fancy way of saying that decorative thing up at the top of the building. They can be really ornate, or stylishly simple. Some of the buildings don’t have them at all, and I think it helps add to the variety and individuality of the street. If we are able to get on the list of historic places and get enough money to renovate, I’d really love for each business owner to really think about what kind of cornice—if any—they want to add to their building or if they’d like to renovate what they have. Plus, the finials on either end are pretty cool too.

I’ve learned all this great stuff about the architecture of the time period and what went into the construction of the main parts of my town, and many other towns across the country. These were not the cookie-cutter assembly kits that you see today. This was quality workmanship and pride.

I’d like to bring that back.