The owner of this old building at Washington Avenue and East Commercial Street plans to tear it down. It was built in 1899 to 1902. (Photo by Steve Pokin)

OPINION |

I wrote on Nov. 17 that there was no proof, at least to me, that the owner of an old building at 540 E. Commercial St. — a building some consider historic — plans to knock it down.

Well, I can now say that certainly is his plan.

Owner Titus Williams had his architect go before the Springfield Landmarks Board the night before my column ran to make the request.

That’s according not only to Mary Collette — a leading figure in preserving, protecting and promoting Historic Commercial Street — but according to Layne Hunton, as well.

Hunton, an architect, is chairman of the Landmarks Board.

Demolition request first goes to Landmarks

What I had not realized when I wrote my first column is that when a building is in a historic district, the owner must first seek permission to demolish it from the Landmarks Board.

I had checked to see if Williams or a representative had sought or acquired a permit from the city to demolish the building at East Commercial Street and Washington Avenue. I didn’t’ find one, and I reported that.

The building is in the Commercial Street Historic District. It marks the eastern boundary of Historic C-Street.

The Landmarks Board is an advisory board. It makes recommendations to city staff and the City Council.

Regardless, just because a structure is designated as being historic or as being in a historic district, an owner can still demolish it.

Landmarks Board wants more information

Hunton tells me Williams’ architect is seeking a “certificate of appropriateness,” which, I guess, is what preservationists call a request to demolish.

The Landmarks Board postponed and tabled the matter earlier this month.

“We want to learn more about what the plans are — what the future holds for it,” Hunton tells me. “Most of what we can do is pause the demolition. Postpone it for 180 days.”

The structure was built around 1900. Records with the Greene County Assessor’s Office say 1899. Information compiled by the Springfield Landmarks Board state 1902.

Williams owns a building right next door at 530 E. Commercial St. It was hard for me to tell where the one structure ended, and the other began.

In addition, he owns the empty lot just west of these two structures.

Owner responds: ‘Yes, demo and rebuild’

Part of the history here is that Williams presented plans in March 2021 to renovate and restore the building.

Collette liked the plans. Hunton did, too, calling them a “good compromise.”

But Williams changed his mind.

According to Hunton, Williams’ architect explained at the Nov. 16 Landmarks Board meeting that the cost to renovate and restore had increased dramatically since March 2021 and Williams, instead, now wants to demolish. (Williams was not at the meeting.)

So I asked Williams via email if that is correct. He responded: “Yes, demo and rebuild.”

Springfield’s Historic C-Street has many passionate property owners who have renovated old buildings. (Photo by Jack McGee)

Property owners passionate for history

When I look at the building in question, I can’t say I stop dead in my tracks and exclaim: “Wow! That’s one beautiful, old, historic building!”

But Collette cautions people like me that it’s not always easy to initially see the history and the beauty in an old structure that, in this case, has been covered in stucco.

She says Commercial Street has had a history of passionate property owners who have come in and renovated buildings that were in worse condition than the one at 540 E. Commercial St.

She includes in that list the structures that today house: Askinosie Chocolate, 514 E. Commercial St.; Pizza House, 312 E. Commercial St.; and Big Momma’s Coffee & Espresso Bar, 217 E. Commercial St.

Collette owns Historic Firehouse No. 2, 101 E. Commercial St., an events center and wedding venue. It was built in 1901 and she and her husband extensively restored it. She is a former member of the City Council and is president of the Commercial Club.

Collette and others on C-Street view Williams’ building as the eastern gateway to Historic C-Street.

They wish and hope for renovation of a historic nature, knowing the reality that Williams owns it and might have wishes and hopes of his own.

This is Pokin Around column No. 81.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin