Thursday, December 13, 2007

Can't Win 'Em All

History falls to commerce
But city, owner weren't cavalier about the move
Link (NS)

"Mark Minnick, CEO of Subway Systems Inc. of Fort Wayne, didn’t want to move his restaurant at 301 W. Jefferson Blvd. Or perhaps his store, which this week became the last building torn down to make room for Harrison Square, could have been rebuilt on a vacant lot. But with the massive downtown improvement project gobbling up 50 nearby properties, Minnick was left with few options.

So he picked a high-traffic spot a few blocks east, at 206 E. Jefferson Blvd., where a fine if faded example of neoclassical residential architecture had somehow survived since the 1890s."
"But couldn’t that vacant house, which was once owned by Chauncey Griffith, an architect whose work includes South Side High School, have been saved?

The city tried, Leatherman said, informing historic preservation group ARCH of Minnick’s interest long before demolition began. Leatherman said Minnick was even willing to donate the cost of demolition to moving the house to another location, but nothing could be worked out.

“We’re disappointed, but the house was just under the radar,” said Angie Quinn, ARCH’s executive director. Even though the house was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, it wasn’t part of any historic district and wasn’t even on ARCH’s list of endangered historic properties."
"The truth is that government can do only so much to protect most privately owned buildings that are historically valuable but commercially suspect. Some, like the building at 436 E. Washington Blvd. occupied last year by Woodson Motorsports, are remodeled in ways that enhance their economical viability at the expense of their architectural integrity. Others — like the Griffith house — are deemed incompatible with the marketplace and make way for something else.

Government can try to influence the outcome, as when it denied grants for exterior improvements to both Woodson and Minnick based in part on the design of their new businesses. Minnick, for example, said he needed both easily accessible parking and a drive-through lane, since earlier downtown Subways that relied on walk-in traffic proved unprofitable.

Harrison Square may one day generate enough walk-in business to make such “urban” designs feasible. But it hasn’t happened yet, and historic buildings’ best hope of survival is to maintain some degree of cultural or economic relevance. The Embassy Theatre did just that when its board allowed the building to be connected by an elevated walkway to the new Harrison Square hotel."