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A revival for Canal Street

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LEAK: Project Manager Lisa Gilman explains how the two-story buliding’s roof will need replaced as she points to a leak that continues to cause damage to the structure.
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SWEEP: Contruction workers clear the Canal Street sidewalk whilebricks rain down from above as crews remove the entirefaçadeof the buildings from roof to basement. Thefaçadebegan bulging from years of neglect,but the newfaçadewill be supported by a steel frame.
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NEW: Gilman hasfinished similar rehabilitation projects in the downtown area, including the apartment on Market Street pictured above.

by ANDREW MACIEJEWSKI, - amaciejewski@wabashplaindealer.com

Bricks that stood watch over Wabash since the 1870s began raining down on the sidewalk on Friday as construction crews began removing two downtown buildings’ façades that threatened to collapse onto Canal Street.

Light began to pour into the damp, dark buildings as workers peeled away the façade, brick by brick. The warm spring air finally penetrated the building as the gaping hole grew larger, drying out the rotting wooden floors and sagging roof.

Property owner and project manager Lisa Gilman bought the three properties that sit side-by-side at 76, 78 and 80 W. Canal St., hoping to transform the three-story and two-story structures into affordable apartments that sit atop two new storefronts below.

The property at 76 W. Canal St. is a vacant lot, but Gilman said she wants to build a smaller building toward the back of the property with an apartment or two overlooking an outdoor dining area.

“I like them because they are side by side and then there is the vacant property, so if it would be possible to attract some type of business that would have outdoor seating, that would be a lovely addition to the downtown area,” Gilman explained.

Gilman expects the project to take about two years to complete. Her vision is to look past structural problems and instead consider how renovated properties will contribute to the downtown area’s economic revitalization.

“I knew if we just let it go any longer, the entire building might have to be demolished,” she said. “If you lose that one building, chances are it will affect the buildings surrounding it, so the goal is to preserve the building stock.”

Gilman has been renovating buildings downtown for 20 years. She recently renovated three properties on W. Market Street.

“I know how to look at the guts of the building, and I can see what it’s going to look like when it’s finished,” Gilman said. “It’s what I do. It’s just second nature.”

Even after a fire, Gilman said as long as the 18-inch thick frame of the building is intact, it’s always worth the investment to save the building before it’s too late.

“Every building is an asset, so if you can turn it into a useful asset that provides living and working spaces downtown, it makes it a win-win for the community,” she said. “It’s important that no buildings get demolished.”

When Gilman walked into the properties on Canal Street, she knew the first step would be to stabilize them.

She did a full replacement of the three-story structure’s roof by removing the rafters, custom engineering new trusses and installing a membrane roof.

Metal straps held the brick façade from collapse, but the new façade will be tied to a steel structure and the leaking roof will be fully replaced.

Gilman plans to replace every wooden floor in the buildings because, she says, the floors began to sag from all of the water and stagnant air.

“So the building will be extremely strong at that point and should be able to last a couple more hundred years,” she concluded.

Each story is 132 feet long, and each floor will be divided into two apartments, around 1,000 square-feet per apartment.

The finished façade is expected to look similar to that of the attorney offices across the street. 

Although the buildings were built in the 1870s, the National Park Service and Indiana’s state architect do not consider the building historic because the previous owners stripped the exterior of any historic character.

The original windows were replaced with cobalt blue widows that were eventually painted over. The window hoods were removed and the decorative cornice above the street was taken off. Gilman says this was common in the 1920s, when community members moved away from historic federal-style buildings to more modern art deco buildings decorated with geometric metal work.

“We are probably going to do more of a federal-style look to the building because the look it has right now is really pretty ugly,” Gilman said. “It’s just painted grey and all of the windows were filled with block, so there was absolutely nothing architecturally significant about it.”

While Gilman won’t be able to restore the building’s original title of being historic, she plans to add decorative brickwork and limestone window sills to make the building fit in once again.

“They are considered non-contributing because they have been messed up so badly over the years, which makes them even more blighted,” Gilman said. “By turning them back into buildings that look historic, that’s what will impact a historic community.”