Restoration of Historic Vincennes Building Underway

By Jenny McNeece | Vincennes Sun-Commercial

VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) — In January, a historic downtown building took the first steps of what is likely to be a long journey toward restoration.

Clint and Leah Richter, the owners of Pearl and Chrome Home Interiors, 309 Main St., purchased the old Zander’s building two years ago with plans to add it to the long list of downtown properties they’ve restored over the years.

They asked the Historic Review Board in May of that year for permission to remove the wavy blue metal siding to see what remained underneath of the original circa 1850 brick facade.

And they got their first peek as the project got underway Jan. 25 morning.

“It’s slow going,” Leah Richter said of the process, which was clearly troubling the two men on a lift truck trying to remove the multiple blue panels. “But we’re taking off that metal to see what we have to work with.

“Whoever put it on there, put it on there well,” she said with a laugh.

The couple also went before the city’s Board of Works Monday, Jan. 23, for permission to place a dumpster behind the building so they can begin cleaning it out, all in the hope of someday soon offering it as a space to rent for either a retail business or, perhaps, a restaurant.

And both, Richter said, are possible.

“It’s two buildings, technically,” she said. “One is a two-story building and the other is three.

“I know they both used to have really pretty windows based on old photos I’ve found, ones with a lot of detail. But to put that metal on the front, they had to kind of scrape off the original limestone details to make it flush. I’m guessing there’s none of that detail left. I’d be shocked if there was.”

Richter said she can see from inside the building that a lot of the original detail is likely gone, although nowadays crews can use a kind of foam board to recreate a lot of a buildings’ historic character, a process used elsewhere at other downtown restorations.

She also said cinder blocks were used to build up the second-story side, blocks they will remove so the roof can be repaired.

“We really just want to know what we’re dealing with so we can set plans and budgets,” Richter said. “But we know we would love some retail or a restaurant in the main level. We’ve considered splitting it up.

“And I want to make some lofts in the upper floors.”

And that project, she said, is the one about which she is the most excited. Habitants of a downtown loft themselves, Richter said the second-floor loft in the three-story side of the building is beautiful, complete with original hardwood floors, a wood ceiling and hand-carved wood beams begging for a little TLC.

“I’m excited to get into that,” she said. “That middle floor is really going to be neat.”

Local historian Norbert Brown said the building dates back all the way to 1850, perhaps one of downtown’s oldest.

The metal facade was added in 1963, Brown said, when it was transformed into Tressler’s, a popular department store.

Before that, it was Woolworths, Brown said, and in the years prior it was many things, including a shoe store, a furniture store, a grocery store, a drug store and a tin wares store belonging to Nicholas Smith.

“I don’t know about its earliest inhabitants,” Brown said, “but I know that building is old, really old.”

And with any luck, this may be the first of a long line of downtown storefronts to get such a facelift.

In recent years, the owners of Scruples, Mingles and The Record Cellar on Main Street have invested their own dollars into sprucing up the exterior of their buildings.

And to help those who, perhaps, couldn’t, the city is partnering with INVin, a new not-for-profit looking to bring more business to Main Street, to apply for a $500,000 state grant that would help nine property owners fix up their facades.

City officials will make their application in April.

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