Rebuilding Begins at Home

HGTV, Trust to focus on housing for Restore America's third year

By Margaret Foster

Restore America funding from HGTV will help rejuvenate the historic Argenta Drug Store building in North Little Rock, Ark.

Credit: Monty Richard

For decades, the best place for a Coke in North Little Rock, Ark., was the Argenta Drug Store, open since 1887. A century later, most of the shops on Main Street had closed, but the pharmacy remained open, with signs that boasted, "Been Here Always." Five years ago, the eight-block downtown began to sputter back to life as each of its historic buildings was renovated. The pharmacy, however, lagged behind as the only structure not rehabbed. The Coca-Cola mural began flaking off the brick wall outside, and even the soda fountain disappeared.

"It's a building that says, 'Please, please take care of me,'" says Rosemary Hamel, executive director of the Argenta Community Development Corp., which has undertaken the first-ever renovation of the drugstore.

The caretakers will arrive with television cameras. Thanks to Restore America: A Salute to Preservation a collaboration between the Trust and Home & Garden Television the rejuvenation of the drugstore and 11 other historic sites across the country will be aired on the channel as public service announcements and "celebrity salutes" starting this fall. What is more, they will share $1 million in restoration funding from HGTV, in its third annual Restore America gift of this size.

In February, the Trust and HGTV selected the 12 sites, which range from high-profile, like Los Angeles' first skyscraper, which is to be renovated as 314 lofts, to nearly forgotten, such as three once-elegant townhouses in Pittsburgh. Two hospitals will become homes: One, a 1924 structure in Houston that has been vacant for nearly three decades, will house 34 "live-work" studios for artists. The other, a former maternity hospital in Minneapolis, will be converted to 54 rental units and eight for-sale houses.

Although their histories vary, all 12 of the buildings share one thing: They're being renovated as housing. Many cities have come to realize that rehabbing bereft historic properties for residential use can change neighborhoods. "They all show something about how preservation functions to drive economic revitalization," says Bobbie Greene, director of the Trust's Save America's Treasures program, which has worked with HGTV on Restore America since its launch in 2003. "We're trying to demonstrate that preservation is critical to building and renewing communities."

As for the Argenta Drug Store, it will close for the first time during its $1.13 million renovation, when its Coca-Cola mural will be restored. "It also has a neon sign that has not worked in years," says Hamel, vowing to repair it?and to track down the old soda fountain.

Here are the 2005–2006 Restore America sites:

· Argenta Drug Store building, North Little Rock, Ark.
· Asylum Hill house, Hartford
· Efroymson House, Indianapolis
· Incardonia's (commercial building), New Orleans
· Jefferson Davis Hospital, Houston
· Lincoln Street neighborhood, Savannah
· Lucien Moore House, Detroit
· MacGillivray's (commercial building), Baltimore
· Mellon Street houses, Pittsburgh
· Pacific Electric Building, Los Angeles
· Pilots Row officers' quarters, San Francisco
· Ripley Maternity Hospital, Minneapolis