I’m driving up and down Brown Street- trying to imagine it without the Frank Z building. The thought depresses me. Just like I miss the old churches in the Oregon District that are gone, like I miss the terra cotta tiles on the gas station/tire store that was there before the Cooper Lofts- I miss the old Todd Burlesque theater- and even the Art Theater on Wayne. And while the new Litehouses on Patterson certainly look better than the parking lot- I worry about the fate of other buildings- like Canal Street- and the old Etman’s Photo across the street.
Old timers miss Steele High School, and the old library downtown. I remember the massive Rikes- which got replaced by the Schuster- which still makes me feel like I’m inside an ant farm in the “Winter garden.”
We’re on a demolition binge in the city- in a race to tear down houses faster than the arsonist torch them. Of course, City Commissioner Nan Whaley leads the charge (thanks to big donations from a demolition contractor) and being elected as a mere renter. Leave no old house standing, yet, the neighborhoods that are doing the best- are the ones where we’ve made it near impossible to tear things down- the Historic Districts.
Turns out, they may have been on to something- it’s actually possible to do the math that recycling housing can be a lot “greener” than the new ones with all their fancy LEED certifications:
Historic preservationists say renovating an old building is almost always better for the environment than framing up a new one. You don’t add to sprawl by taking up more land. And, you don’t waste all the energy and resources, like wood and metal, already in existing buildings. But people don’t often equate old buildings with “going green.”
Considering the population isn’t growing, it seems the main reason for demolition is to artificially prop up values by decreasing inventory (and to funnel money into donors’ pockets). Yet, the way the market works best is when the values are allowed to drop- and opportunity arises. I bought my 1,800 sq ft Victorian for $14,500 in 1986- as a young lad, because I could afford it- and the upgrades it needed to become a home. This home, my office, and my cottages all could have been demolished had they not had historic zoning protection- and those nutcase people who don’t believe that tearing everything down is the solution.
I look at the “University Place” building at Stewart and Brown- built by Miller Valentine- and dread what they will build to replace the regal Frank Z. I look at the Sonic on Wilmington (and everywhere else around town) and think- we had one at Stewart and Brown- it was called Frish’s and it was the real deal. There will never be another Dominic’s- which was hacked together using three houses and who knows what else- and we use excuses like ADA requirements, and modern building codes to stifle redevelopment- but what are we really doing? Filling landfills with perfectly usable resources. That’s why the deconstruction business is booming- yet, the market for re-use of these materials still hasn’t quite developed.
Is it time to start encouraging reuse of at least the materials for new construction- like we do with paper: “The building contains 30% post construction materials”- or requiring removing x numbers of vacant square footage in order to add y square footage to our community inventory? The Frank Z building’s facade couldn’t be rebuilt for a million dollars- and will just end up in a landfill- why don’t we have incentives to at least keep it- and for re-using materials from the sprawling back of the building?
Green isn’t always new. Green is what we do with what we have too.