Michigan Modern Saved for Now
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Dec. 3, 2009
Last month, Michigan's State Historic Preservation Office intervened to forestall the demolition of a Streamline Moderne building. The Lincoln Park, Mich., Downtown Development Authority voted this fall to demolish the 1941 Mellus Building to make way for a public park. The local state historic preservation office stepped in, citing the building's listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Per state law, the office must review changes to any listed building.
Regardless of the outcome of the review process, "the old, decrepit building will come down," Mayor Frank Vaslo told the local News-Herald last week. (Vaslo did not return phone calls from Preservation.) "All this is doing now is adding time and cost to this project. It is inevitable that the building will still come down."
The Mellus Building has been vacant since 1986. This year the city's Downtown Development Authority purchased the structure and two other nearby buildings for $93,000. It set a deadline of September for anyone to come up with a plan for the Mellus building. One potential buyer stepped forward, offering $11,000. But at a meeting on Nov. 12, the authority voted to pursue demolition.
"Our downtown are has been virtually vacant for about 25 years, and there seems to be a feeling of 'Just do something' in the air," Councilman Tom Murphy, who worked in the building for eight years, said in an e-mail. "I believe that many of the DDA board members are torn between desire to work with the historic preservation of our buildings and the desire to just tear down old problem areas and make room available for new businesses to come in to our city and start from scratch."
The Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance claims credit for last week's temporary reprieve, since it successfully nominated the Mellus Building to the National Register four years ago. Resident Leslie Lynch-Wilson, who formed the alliance in 2000, believes that the Mellus can restored. The roof of the building leaks, she acknowledges, but that's a relatively new problem.
"I showed someone from the Detroit Free Press the building last October, and there was no water in there," says Lynch-Wilson, who spent months searching for a buyer who would renovate the structure. "We truly believe that there's value to saving this building. … It would be a fun sort of attraction. They're saying I have pie-in-the sky ideas, but our country was founded on pie-in-the-sky ideas."
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