Guest Column: Deconstruction is the court of last resort

Built in 1902, this 10,000-square-foot building served as a freight house for the Chicago and Northwestern railroad.
Built in 1902, this 10,000-square-foot building served as a freight house for the Chicago and Northwestern railroad.

By Marge Bevers
Friends of Ziock

The leadership of Friends of Ziock (FOZ) applaud Bill Howard for his drive to save and recycle historic building materials, reduce landfill use, and create jobs through a deconstruction center. Deconstruction is clearly the best solution for buildings without a viable future.

In a story in the Aug. 27-Sept. 2 issue of The Rock River Times, Bill clearly considers the Old Freight Depot (Charles Joseph Building) at 514 S. Church obsolete. We part company over the definition of the phrase “obsolete structures.” We could not disagree more about the depot.

The interior space today features beams as huge as 9 inches by 15 inches — some of them from trees already 150 years old when they were installed.
The interior space today features beams as huge as 9 inches by 15 inches — some of them from trees already 150 years old when they were installed.

Bill’s specific goal is to save intact the east end to serve as the Amtrak passenger train station and demolish the balance, using salvaged materials for the depot rehabilitation. To this end, Bill (with the approval of the City of Rockford) has already removed second-story floor boards, non-structural beams/hangers, and folding door hardware.

Following several recent tours that included an architect and several developers, FOZ leaders are confident that the WHOLE structure is sound, suitable to adaptive reuse, and clearly historic. The architecture and construction materials are stunning; even the masonry is in good shape.

This depot was built in 1902, produced by the Chicago architectural firm that also designed the magnificent Nelson Hotel. The building utilized rail spurs of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway Co., behind Cedar Street on the bluff overlooking Kent Creek. This rail corridor received raw materials and food used by factories along Cedar Street and within the Water Power District from the 1850s for a century. During the Civil War, Rockford was the top provider of flour to the Union forces. Cedar Street was also home to the largest seed catalogue retailer (Shumway & Sons) during the early 20th century.

The interior of the depot suggests great potential for residential lofts, commercial or retail space. The proximity to the hotel at Cedar and South Main — which will open in early 2017 — makes the location highly desirable.

Further, declaration of historic status will qualify the building for 45 percent combined state and federal historic tax credits. This benefit is so substantial that we propose no building should be considered for demolition until the potential for historic status is exhausted.

While FOZ originally considered this site as a prospect for the new train station, it is clear that the needs of the 150-room hotel and conference center — along with the sports center just across the river — must drive any decision about the ultimate location of the passenger depot.

Whatever the intention of the City of Rockford at the time of acquisition, we believe they now agree this stock should be returned to the private sector, where it will produce property taxes, create jobs and participate in the rebirth of the district that was once the commercial and industrial hub of early Rockford.

While we salute the lofty goals of Bill Howard, rehabilitation/adaptive reuse of viable buildings is preferable to demolition of historic sites. Deconstruction is one solution: it is the court of last resort only when all other options are exhausted.

From the Sept. 3-9, 2014, issue

One thought on “Guest Column: Deconstruction is the court of last resort

  • September 3, 2014 at 5:26 pm
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    I’m excited to hear that this building maybe restored to its former glory. The brick, lumber and wonderful iron details are warm and inviting. This building would make a wonderful mixed use space. Can you see lofts with retail spaces below? While our organization is part of the deconstruction industry, reuse, in our eyes, is always preferred.

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