Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Old Trees, Old Buildings and the Carnegie Library

When I attended Ohio University in the early 70's I became quite fond of hiking the hills across the Hocking River and watching sunsets while facing back toward the campus. On one occasion I recall having my attention drawn to a loud creaking and groaning sound just off the trail. I went to investigate and discovered it to be coming from a large, old tree.

As I drew near I saw that it was partially hollowed out, was rotting and would likely be the next tree to fall here in this region of forest. I suspected that there were some kind of critters making their home in this old tree, maybe squirrels or something larger. It certainly lent itself to this kind of occupation. Eventually the groaning, however, would become a loud crash leaving the remains to rot on the forest floor.

This memory came to mind this week as I thought about the number of old buildings in our community that people have been striving to preserve. Unlike the old tree, the buildings don't really groan too loudly. And unlike the tree, as they age they can be restored and preserved for generations to come. And as the large oak stands proudly in the midst of a generation of younger trees, so the old buildings model an architectural heritage from an earlier time, marking a continuity with our pasts.

Out here in the Midwest this past it not really very far away, at least when compared to structures in Europe that have stood for centuries and even a millenium. Every one of these buildings has a story. It's fabulous what has been done with the old City Hall by the owners of Tycoons in downtown Duluth. Though ambitious, the restoration of the Norshor Theater is a worthy cause. I think also of the Duluth Armory and applaud the efforts of the Armory Arts and Music Center (AAMC) for their efforts to preserve this valuable structure that has provided so much inspiration to previous generations.

On the Superior side of the bridge there has been some wonderful restoration and preservation of historic buildings, too numerous to list here, and I want to draw attention to one in particular, the old Carnegie Library. I love the new Superior library and until recently was utterly unaware that Superior, like Duluth, was blessed with a beautiful library built by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation back in the day. Of the 63 Carnegie Libraries built in Wisconsin, Superior not only had the oldest, it also had the last,. There were two Carnegie Libraries in town.

In 1991 the main library moved to its new location on Tower Avenue a block from Belknap and the city voted to have the old building dismantled, but historically minded "friends of the library" intervened with a restraining order.

Two weeks ago I was notified of a plan to purchase the building, if "investors" could be raised. Wes Kruse of the Superior Community Theater, who is spearheading the effort, sent me the following:

To Those Who Would Like To Buy Space In The Superior Carnegie Art Center:
There are five other spaces in the Old Superior Library, now called “Superior Carnegie Art Center” available for sale. Superior Community Theater would like to buy the Old Superior Library and have five other groups or individuals buy 1/6 of the building to put in art studios, dance studios, art galleries, martial arts studios, and recording studios. These are not live-in studios or condos, but working studios of creation.

Each unit can fix up their space any way they wish. The cost of fixing and electricity for each unit is up to each group to find funding to fix up their own unit. All six groups will help pay for the roof and the plumbing, but each unit will pay for their own remodeling and fix up. Each unit will be wired separately so you can put in the electricity you need and all heat in the building will be electric heat per unit. Each unit will pay for their own lights and heat, but water and sewage will be paid for by the Superior Community Theater.

To get in on this great deal, each available space will cost $4,000 down and $16,833 to be financed as you see fit and however you can arrange to pay off the remaining amount to whatever bank or funding organization you can go through.

If you are interested in looking at the units and the space, please contact Wes Kruse at 218-393-0148 or e-mail me at klpstudios at gmail.com 

It's a beautiful building and a great touchstone for local history. Do we have too many buildings and too few dollars? Consultants who did a city assessment last year asked the community to think big, think beyond the boundaries of "how" and ask what could be done if the resources were not a limitation. Wes is attempting to do this. Maybe you share the vision. Or if you're in another part of the world you hear the ghosts of a former glory calling out from the windows of a building near you.

Is it time to give back to the buildings that gave us so much?

Pictues of the Carnegie Library (above) and the Armory

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