IHPA, Main Street help downtown owners

The Vandalia Main Street Program and a state architect are continuing their efforts to help owners of downtown buildings who are interested in improving the exteriors of their structures.

Through its affiliation with Illinois Main Street, Vandalia Main Street brought Illinois Historic Preservation architect Anna Margaret Borntrager to town for a second time a couple of weeks ago.

During her visit, Borntrager offered advice on historically correct improvements to the facades of five downtown buildings. She also visited with several Vandalia Elementary School teachers about how the IHPA and Vandalia Main Street can incorporate historic preservation education into their curriculums.

During her first visit, Borntrager worked with Steve and Gloria Durbin on a renovation of the exterior of Glorias Christian and Office Supply at 214 S. Fourth St.

The Durbins used Borntragers advice in creating a finished project that was recognized with an Illinois Main Street award last year.

Borntrager also gave suggestions for improvements to buildings in the eastern half on the north side of the 500 block of West Gallatin Street, as well as exterior suggestions for the Twice Nice building in the 400 block of West Gallatin Street and the State Finance building in the 500 block of Gallatin.

During her recent visit, Borntrager and Vandalia Main Street Program Manager Dana White first met with Vandalia representatives of the National Road Assocation.

Whiteman, Jerry Swarm and Dana Smith told Borntrager of their plans to improve the building at 106 S. Fifth St.

That building, which was once home to Sonnemann Lumber and most recently housed the Lawinger Law Office, is being leased by the city to the National Road Association for use as an interpretive center.

Borntrager also met with representatives of First National Bank to discuss her suggestions for enhancing the building at the southeast corner of Fifth and Gallatin streets, and with Rich and Gay Jenner, who now own those buildings in the eastern half of the 500 block of West Gallatin Street.

Borntrager also visited Liberty Theater, which recently suffered significant damage to the roof and subsequently, the interior from high winds.

She and Whiteman spoke with Cary Eisentraut of Hillsboro, who is considering purchasing the theater from Gary Carroll.

Eisentraut is thinking about adding the Vandalia theater to those in other communities, including Hillsboro and Litchfield, that he has restored.

Borntrager presented Abe Clymer and his daughter, Joy Clymer-Budny with a computer generated representation of what a restored exterior of Clymer TV & Appliances, located at 521 W. Gallatin St., would look like.

After meeting with the Clymers, Borntrager agreed to fine tune her proposal, now that they have considered adding an awning to the front of the building.

Whiteman said the meeting at Vandalia Elementary School was the result of interest expressed by some teachers, particularly Emma Sue Rabe and Susan Culbertson, in how they can present to their students an education on architecture, particularly historical architecture.

Borntrager make visits like the ones here to many communities throughout the state, ones which express an interest in giving their historical business districts a facelift.

I think its very important for us to provide such a service, she said. It always helps to have someone come in from the outside.

We can tell you what a great community you have, but we will also tell you how you can make it better, Borntrager said.

With a shift from the traditional downtown business districts to large shopping complexes, Its definitely a struggle to keep the downtown districts vibrant, she said.

It take a lot of effort from a lot of people, Borntrager said.

The expertise that she provides to communities like Vandalia is part of a national Main Street model. Communities all over the country are following this model, and they are finding that its very proven that it helps their downtowns, she said.

It takes awhile for business and building owners to buy into the model, Borntrager said, and once they feel the environment (for improvements) is safe, we see building projects just rolling along.

She cited the successes of communities like Dixon, Aledo and Jacksonville in transforming their downtown districts.

Whiteman also sees the value in using IHPA architects for downtown improvements, particularly for towns like Vandalia that have a rich history.

Restoring the buildings to the way they were, restoring the fronts of those structures, reminds us of what our history is and how we can reflect that history, Whiteman said.

The old state capitol is a natural tourist attraction, and having buildings restored downtown will encourage tourists to come down the street and see what else we have to offer, she said.

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