Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I received a comment from a regular reader yesterday and from some of her words I can clearly tell that she either “mis-remembers” or has been misinformed about the history of the vacant downtown block. In relation to the state of the now demolished buildings, she says;
“I do know that some of the damage found was deliberate; the Woolworth building, for example, was vacated (the tenant was not permitted to renew) and not put up for rent, left empty for years, and not maintained deliberately so that it could be condemned and torn down despite its historic status, and paved into the current parking lot.”
I thought that I would set the record straight and give you the story, as chronicled by the Lexington-Herald Leader and maintained in the Local History Index from the Lexington Public Library. In June of 1987, some enterprising reporter(do we have any of those anymore?) did a piece on a downtown fixture that was not doing the business that it once enjoyed but had kept the original facade on their building as from the ‘40s.
"Woolworth building joined the old things in a new way"…The architecture of the Woolworth building is a transition style because in motif it reaches back to the revival traditions: It puts "old" things together in new ways. The interior of the Woolworth building is largely original, although some of its early functions are no longer a part of the marketing strategy of the 1980's.
One year later the headlines trumpeted that although the lease was nearly up the company had exercised their option to remain downtown. They were showing that they believed in the revival being predicted.
"Repairs at Woolworth are a sign of things not to come"… As every real estate developer in town knows, Woolworth's 40-year lease on the store at Main and Limestone streets runs out in 1989. Developers know it because several have considered buying the corner, in the heart of downtown, and putting up a modern building. It won't happen - not before 1999, anyway. Woolworth is exercising an option and extending its lease for 10 more years.

Sadly reality set in and one and a half years later the end of Woolworth’s on Main St was announced. The business was closing but the building would remain. About the same time as the new downtown library was being built, this block began its slow decline.
"Downtown Woolworth's to close doors "F.W. Woolworth Co. is closing its "five and ten cent store" at 106 West Main Street that represents 88 years of retailing in downtown Lexington.

"Woolworth closing set for Jan. 13"The F.W. Woolworth store in downtown Lexington will close Jan. 13, but the future of the Woolworth building at 106 West Main Street remains in doubt.
In late 1993, while the City was demolishing the block cat-a-corner to this location for the then promised “cultural center” and which is now the new court houses and plaza, the Woolworth site was being considered for some of the required parking
"Woolworth may also be candidate for razing "Ongoing demolition of those Ben Snyder block buildings prompted this related question: Is there still talk of razing the old downtown Woolworth building to make room for a parking lot?
Fast forward to 1999 and we see that the local preservation group has included this building on its endangered list. Unfortunately most of them would not survive.
"'Eleven in their 11th hour' "The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation yesterday released its first-ever list of endangered historic sites in Central Kentucky. The properties included in the "Eleven in their 11th hour" list are:… (In Fayette County the old sanctuary at Calvary Baptist Church, the Dunn Building, Limestone Street from Vine to Third Street, the house at 207 South Limestone, the James McConnell House, Placentia, the Williamson-Price House and the F.W. Woolworth Building).
The dawn of the new century brought a renewed call for some type of redevelopment or reuse of the old building even though it was less than 50 years old at the time. This is the time that any real discussion for a project on this block began
"Raze or reuse"… Yet it's the future of the old F.W. Woolworth building that has people concerned. Once a staple of Main Streets across America, Woolworth closed its doors in downtown Lexington 10 years ago last month, and the company's lease at 106 West Main Street --- extended just before the store closed --- ran out Monday. After a decade of decay, the three-story building at the center of town has become one of Lexington's most well-known eyesores. But while some see the southwest corner of Main and Limestone as ripe for redevelopment, others say the art deco building with 40,000 square feet of space should be saved for retail or office use.
This was also the time that Lexington thought that they could lure some of the “high tech” giants or even some of their spin-offs, to become a player in the “new economy”. That was right before a good deal of them went bust.
"City real estate ripe to reap dot-coms "Picture this: the year is 2005 and high-tech, e-commerce, dot-com companies are sprouting in spaces such as former storefronts and old warehouses downtown and around the University of Kentucky. Lexington buildings that make "new economy" pioneers drool include the F.W. Woolworth store on West Main Street, South Hill Station on South Upper street and tobacco warehouses on and around South Broadway.
It was such an inviting scenario that the State and City jumped onto the band wagon, and in my opinion, just about guarantied some sort of failure. In the words of one of my favorite Lord of the Rings characters Gimli “Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for? …”. Even the school of Architecture got involved.
"Woolworth building renovation could begin soon "Workers could begin transforming the old F.W. Woolworth Building on West Main Street into a haven for high-tech business within months. State officials approved a $500,000 grant for the $3.2 million project yesterday, adding to the $1 million already committed by the city and private donors.

"UK rekindles hope for old Woolworth's "It appears the dust has finally been blown off a $3.2 million plan to transform the old F. W. Woolworth Building on West Main Street into a high tech haven. The Buzz has learned that a class of University of Kentucky architecture students is busy sketching designs for a renovation of the building and project backers are holding informal talks with UK about what offices and classes they could locate and offer in the building. The renovated building, now dubbed The Factory, would provide 41,000 square feet of work space at low rents for early-stage technology.
"'Factory to rise from Woolworth's remains "In the next 18 months, not far from Lexington's Phoenix Park, a crumbling building may rise again. The 53-year-old Woolworth building, once a vibrant downtown shopping locale, has been dying since the store closed its doors a decade ago. Its walls are decaying, and varmints have taken over its insides. But after a year and a half of discussion and negotiations, city officials announced yesterday that they and owners Joe Rosenberg and family have reached an agreement that could help revive the structure.
After two years of waiting(the locals won’t do that today), the State, seeing the handwriting on the wall, began to back off their decision to be involved and took their money back. The funding dried up(without the death of an un-named investor) and the price tag began to grow.
"Agency withdraws money for Woolworth Building "The state of Kentucky yesterday withdrew a half-million dollars in funding for the renovation of the Woolworth Building in Lexington because of delays caused by the discovery of structural deficiencies that could raise the cost of the project. The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority withdrew its approval of the funding until project officials can get a final assessment of the cost. Officials can reapply for funding after July 15, the start of the next fiscal funding year.
"Woolworth plan fading fast "Longtime hopes of remaking a dilapidated downtown Lexington building into a high-tech incubator are fading fast, according to some of the project's supporters. An architectural study of the old F. W. Woolworth Building at 106 West Main Street suggests it will cost $5 million to rehab the building and stock it with the latest technology, up from the $3.1 million a consortium of private backers and politicians had hoped to spend on the project.
By the end of the summer in 2002 any plans for renovating the Woolworth building looked like pipe dreams in the wind.
“Finding a home for high-tech "Backers of a high-tech business incubator in Lexington have shifted their attention to another downtown spot: the Blue Max building at Main and Upper streets. The multimillion-dollar project was long planned for the old F. W. Woolworth building on West Main Street, but recent revelations about that building's poor condition have cast doubt on the site, said Kris Kimel, president of the non-profit Kentucky Science and Technology Corp. "This building would allow us to do the same thing, only on a smaller scale," Kimel said yesterday after a meeting of the Kentucky Innovation Commission.
This “Blue Max” building that they are talking about could not be the old Courthouse, the 1915 National Bank Building or the cast iron fronted McAdams & Morford building(current location of Hugo’s), so it has to be the Buster’s location. This would make it a much smaller project.

The property owner, Mr. Rosenberg(for all his faults), having been strung along by the government and justifiably unwilling to spend money for repairs to a building which others wanted to renovate, finally realized that the building was now an economic liability and chose to demolish it.
"Owner set to raze Woolworth "A historic downtown building that city leaders had hoped to turn into a high-tech business incubator is now designated to become a parking lot. Joe Rosenberg, owner of the long-vacant F. W. Woolworth Building at 106 West Main Street, applied for a demolition permit last month, saying the building is unsafe.

"Owner tells board he might abandon Woolworth building "One way or another, the old F. W. Woolworth building at 106 West Main Street will come down, vowed majority owner Joe Rosenberg during a passionate debate yesterday over the historic building's future. If the Downtown Design Review Board doesn't approve Rosenberg's demolition request when it meets again Wednesday morning, he vowed to abandon the building and make the city pay for its destruction.
Late September, 2002 and the wrecking ball is ready to fly…, but wait, here come the preservationists again.
"Woolworth Building to fall "The old F. W. Woolworth Building on Main Street will come down, beginning Tuesday. And majority owner Joe Rosenberg said there is plenty of blame to go around for the historic building's demise. In a 3-1 vote yesterday morning, the Downtown Design Review Board approved an application to demolish the historic structure, agreeing with Rosenberg that the building has no economic value. Preservationists were disappointed with the outcome, calling it "too hasty."

"Woolworth demolition delayed "Preservationists fighting to save the F. W. Woolworth building from the wrecking ball have won a temporary reprieve. On Wednesday, Joe Rosenberg, owner of the long-vacant Woolworth building at 106 West Main Street, received approval to demolish the building from the Downtown Design Review Board, a five-member panel charged with overseeing design guidelines for the downtown core.
All through the Spring of 2003 Mr. Rosenberg and the preservationists worked to find some way to save and restore the building. No one threatened to run Mr. Rosenberg out of town, nor do they do so today.
"Woolworth building's fate still open to discussion "The old F. W. Woolworth Building at 106 West Main Street will see at least one more spring. The Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation and owner Joe Rosenberg now have until May 8 to find a way to save the building, which was approved for demolition by the Downtown Design Review Committee last fall.

"Group still hopes to save building "An appeal blocking destruction of the old F. W. Woolworth building at 106 West Main Street has been dropped, but don't expect the long-vacant building to fall any time soon. The Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation withdrew its appeal of the planned demolition because "we have faith that the plans that are in place will be successful in saving the building," said Zanne Jefferies, preservation and education coordinator for the trust. Jefferies would not say what plans for the 48,904-square-foot building entail, but suggested details might be finalized by month's end.
Finally, the clock ran out and the Woolworth building met a similar fate to the venerable Graves & Cox store next door and became a parking lot.
"Woolworth building runs out of options, will be torn down "The former F.W. Woolworth at 106 West Main Street has a date with the wrecking ball in about three weeks -- and preservationists are unlikely to object this time. "We are at the end," Joe Rosenberg said yesterday. "It's disappointing, but I don’t known what else to do….It's something I don't look forward to doing." Rosenberg, whose family owns about 90 percent of the Woolworth property, said the site will become a parking lot unless a buyer steps forward.
Fourteen years and innumerable dollars spent just talking about how to renovate, rehabilitate or reuse a downtown structure, which was probably in better shape than the others on the block. This is just one of the block’s buildings that was assessed individually and this is how the story ended. I doubt that the others could have fared much better.

The condo sites that she speaks of, and the Woodland /High site in particular, according to one of the architects involved, the building’s construction crew would not follow the proper procedures so that now the brick work needs to be redone and many other interior details need looking at. And I fail to see the relevance of the current condo projects being sold or rented, if the end result is getting people to live downtown. I can take you to many subdivision streets that were built to own, but spent many years being rental property.

As always, I look forward to hearing from all of you. Keep the comments coming.

1 comment:

Nick said...

Correction....The Blue Max was the name of the music venue located at 156 W. Main St. before The Dame moved to that same location in early 2003.

Interesting side-note....the bar, bar stools and lamps that were at The Dame were salvaged from the Woolworth building before it was demolished. These same items are still in use at The Dame's new location at 367 E. Main St.