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Rising from the rubble: Downtown building owners’ restorations come forth

Rising from the rubble: Downtown building owners’ restorations come forth

When talk first surfaced more than a decade ago about dismantling the downtown canopy, most of the building owners were vehemently opposed to the idea because they knew they’d have to spend big bucks to restore building façades hidden since 1958 by Broadway’s concrete monstrosity. What’s worse, in some cases, owners could have created faux storefronts in modern materials, perhaps forever altering the original appearance of those buildings, many of which are truly historic in nature.
One of the canopy’s most ardent supporters was the late Dale Puckett. Looking at the front of the buildings he once owned in the 900 block on East Broadway’s south side, it’s not hard to see why. Over the years, Puckett extensively remodeled the exterior of his shops to make them more appealing while plumping for the canopy because it kept his customers from slogging through inclement weather and possibly soiling the interior.
A core group of downtown business owners finally has succeeded in having the canopy torn down. I just hope that, as far as building appearances go, what has been going up in its place are just preliminary stopgap efforts. Initial activity, in some cases, seems both hasty and a shoddy response to making Broadway beautiful. While not privy to any private conversations along this broad boulevard, I suspect considerable grumbling is going on about the after-effects of the canopy’s removal, with the initial response being to make amends cheaply rather than correctly.

Debate already has begun as to how much should be stripped from Broadway’s re-revealed building fronts and what period in history we want the street to reflect.

Although the structure in the accompanying 1928 photo is outside the area of the now-demolished canopy, this is how the Central Dairy Company building at 1106 East Broadway appeared shortly after it was completed.

Ignoring the temporary signs in the upper windows and the lights, we can see that the Central Dairy building was a strictly classy 1920s building whose first-floor soda fountain remained a popular downtown attraction for decades.

Downtown Appliance began to restore the building earlier this year, and the outcome looks very promising. Still the question remains as to how far building owners and their occupantsshould be urged to hew to original structural appearances.

Far from being an advocate of public architectural supervisionof any privately held building, I would still like to see the community at large persuade downtown building owners to make what they possess look as good as it possibly can.

There’s a lot of history, including some neat-looking cast iron columns, hiding behind all that false work that’s begging to be exposed.

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