Celebrating Preservation:  One Person’s Experience

By Barbara Evans

I’ve introduced projects and areas of historic architecture in Northfield as general topics.  Now I’ll introduce you to a single project and its engineer, HPC Commissioner Randy Lutz.  He was part of a group who restored two buildings that once housed Jacobsen’s Department Store.  I interviewed him about what it took to make that happen, how it went, and what he learned.  I share this with his permission. As members of the HPC, we try to protect the historic properties in our care while helping building owners in appropriate ways. Our success depends on the owners’ desire to preserve our heritage while still meeting business needs.  Randy Lutz and Beth Closner did just that as half of a partnership to redevelop what are now the Lockwood Opera House Condominiums, Coldwell Banker (previously the Present Perfect space), Hideway Coffee House and Wine Bar, and Swag.   These three businesses replaced Jacobsen’s Department Store, which had been in that location from 1947-2003.  Taking two buildings (already combined into one) that dated from the Opera House in 1872 and the Melwin Building from 1899 required a vision supported by engineering and architectural guidance.  Discovering how to add modern conveniences and preserve the historical features of the building to create a desirable downtown living experience (they have garage spaces too) would take time, patience, logistics, more patience, and money.  The project was completed (Northfield News July 20, 2005) in the summer of 2005. Early challenges included dealing with water damage in order to save as many of the original features as possible, especially the tin ceilings.  Those garage spaces involved more complications.  There were long-standing easements through the back of the property and very difficult digging due to hitting shallow bedrock. Then the city required sprinklers. Water mains in the street added to the list of problems to be solved, becoming part of the adventure. Randy navigated HPC and City regulations to proudly complete this project pointing out the special-order Marvin windows (with proper historic width of the mullions), the finish colors (true to the period), the signage, and the door to the stairway up to the condominiums from Division Street.  Interior spaces painted in historic colors and making the rear of the building look like three buildings were more historic efforts. Randy says, “We did everything that was asked. We wanted the project to be as right as possible.” So why apply to be a member of the HPC?  This self-declared history buff and engineer thinks that form should follow function, but that the visuals are also valuable. He respects the thoughtfulness of those who built these buildings and the artisans and skilled craftsman who made them unique.  Everything is built on something else.  This “wonderful adventure” gave him a chance to learn. “When you work with something already existing there will be discoveries that will be interesting.” Randy’s willingness to serve on the HPC and to bring his experience to the table when decisions need to be made, makes us better stewards of historic properties.