Demolition of historic structure will wait
By Stephanie Johns
A request to demolish one of the last two historically African-American buildings in Madison was tabled until the March meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).
While the 200 W. Washington St. building may look like one large building from the outside, in actuality it is two buildings. The Mapp-Gilmore Funeral Home used to be located in one side of the structure.
The HPC will ask City Manager David Nunn to hire a structural specialist to give an opinion as to whether or not the old building can be saved.
According to the Morgan County Board of Tax Assessors website, the structure is 6,552 square feet with brick exterior walls as well as open wood joists and a pine floor.
According to Laura Butler, president of the Morgan County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a prior tenant of one portion of the building, the building was “African-built, African-owned.”
She said the NAACP had an office in that building from the 1970s through April 2012.
“It shouldn’t be torn down because that is historic,” she said. “You always can renovate a building; it may cost.”
Butler said the building was at one time home to a barber shop, a beauty shop, Franklin’s Restaurant, Franklin’s Pool Hall, a café and a dance hall.
Ethel Franklin said that her mother, Dellie Franklin, had “Home Cook Restaurant” in that building. After that there was “Fish Delight.”
Franklin voiced her opposition to demolishing the building.
“It is a historic building and I don’t think it should be torn down,” she said. “Restore it: let it stay the same on the outside and correspond with other buildings.”
Kathi Russell, current owner of the building and of the Madison Tea Room & Garden, came before the HPC in December for a conceptual review of her plans for the building.
During that meeting Russell shared a letter from Morgan County Planning Director Chuck Jarrell.
Jarrell’s letter offered seven concerns he had about the building’s structural integrity, four of which dealt with water damage. The other concerns include damage to the floor as well as “electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems (that) will need to be completely overhauled.” He also noted that “all windows and doors will need to be replaced.”
Also during that meeting several HPC members voiced their objections to razing the building.
Marti Jessup, HPC chair, noted that during their meeting last week there was “a tremendous amount of discussion” as to whether the building should be demolished or refurbished.
HPC Consultant Ken Kocher said that “commissioners expressed strong opinions to see the building saved.”
Sherri Clark, owner of Madison Gift Mart & Café, and a former member of the HPC, said she wanted everyone to “take a deep breath and see what’s really important.” She added that demolishing the building would “be a great loss.”
“That’s a very special building,” she said. “It is as valuable as a courthouse or a church or a historic home.”
Russell agreed that the building is special and its history as the location of African-American businesses is worth remembering.
She added that the building is in “dire condition” though. She mentioned concern about the amount of dust and the potential for illness such as the Hantavirus, which is found in rodent droppings.
She said that in December the interior walls still were up but now that those walls are down one can see into the structure.
“It’s a tremendous eye-opening experience to see into the interior,” she said.
Stratton Hicky, secretary for the HPC, explained, “For the most part, an applicant can do whatever they want inside.”
“We talked about this at the meeting,” he said. “They cannot tear out the interior so the exterior won’t stand because basically that’s tearing down from the inside out.”
Russell said that when she purchased the building in April 2012, the extent of the damage was not apparent and called the revelations “a discovery process.”
Based on information she has gathered, she placed its year of origin as 1905 or earlier. She said a business license for Mary Smith dating to the 1920s was found during the discovery process.
Russell said the building has suffered from neglect through no one’s fault. Instead she blamed tough economic times over the past decades for its current condition.
Regarding her interactions with the HPC, she said, “We’re in the same book, just not on the same page.”
Kocher said that state law requires that a completed application to the HPC be acted upon within 45 days or else the request, whatever it may be, automatically will be approved.
Russell’s application was complete as of Feb. 6, he said. April 4 is 45 days from this date.
Kocher said he expects that they will receive a report from the structural specialist by their March meeting.
This specialist, whether the person is an engineer or a restoration contractor or a different type of specialist, will be hired based upon his/her qualifications, Kocher said.
Nunn noted, “There are lots of questions to be answered.”
Printed in the February 21, 2013 edition