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Historic preservationists band together as they look for ways to restore buildings after tornado

Historic preservationists band together as they look for ways to restore buildings after tornado

May 26th, 2019 by Michelle Brooks in Local News

Tavaris McClain, left, jumps off a pile of debris as he cleans up outside his mother's destroyed home Thursday, May 23, 2019 after a tornado tore through Jefferson City late Wednesday. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Gallery: May 22, 2019, Tornado Photo Gallery

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The heartbreak of losing properties essential to the historic backdrop of Jefferson City is shared by not only the owners and those who have rehabilitated the grand homes and storied spaces, but by community members and people outside of town.

The Historic City of Jefferson's Facebook page grew from 1,600 followers before Thursday's tornado to more than 4,000 the next day, Executive Director Anne Green said.

"We have been posting multiple times a day with updates regarding the work that is occurring on Capitol Avenue, and the vicinity, and on the conditions of the historic buildings in the area," Green said. "We've had people from across the county and as far away as Ireland, following what's going on in our community and sharing in our heartbreak.

"Historic preservation, and the critical role it's played in their life, is something people don't always think about until a building they love is endangered."

Hundreds of stories have been shared about the impacted buildings. Many people remembered their youth staying at the Bella Vista Apartments or an early-career job in one of the mansions-turned-office space.

After the nostalgia and loss, the practical sets in. The historic preservation organization also has been able to connect owners with contractors and volunteers. And, the group has been in communication with other communities that have experienced natural disasters in historic districts, to learn what best practices are and how to help this city move forward, Green said.

Owners may have to choose between demolition and long-term restoration. Green noted in the Capitol Avenue area, there are programs available to owners who choose to reinvest.

The area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, therefore historically-accurate restorations could qualify for state and federal tax credits.

The Qualified Opportunity Zones program allows people who sell assets, that would have generated a capital gains liability, to defer tax payments, if they reinvest in a qualified opportunity zone, such as Capitol Avenue. Shaun Sappenfield at the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce has more information.

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"It's difficult to rebuild after a natural disaster, no matter the circumstances," Green said. "Historic buildings complicate the matter, because there are a number of additional concerns homeowners have to consider."

For example, one Capitol Avenue owner has sought expert advice on how to preserve original windows. Conveying the preservation of valued architectural pieces with on-site volunteers will be another challenge.

The Historic City of Jefferson offered the following recommendations:

  • Be vigilant in saving original windows, doors and features for future reuse;
  • Communicate clearly with volunteers and contractors;
  • Stay on site during clearing to closely monitor work; and
  • Take lots of photos and video.

"HCJ is working on compiling a list of preservation specialists and resources that might be useful to homeowners in the coming days," Green said.

Most of the storm's damage hit historic homes in the 600 block of Capitol Avenue, though the 500 block also saw some definite damage.

One of the most severely damaged gems was the 1869-built Dallmeyer house, 600 E. Capitol Ave., which had been restored by and used as office space by Frank and Carol Burkhead.

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Across the street, the Bella Vista Apartments, 601 E. Capitol Ave., built in 1928, also sustained severe roof damage, losing much of the tile on the roof and the entryway.

In the 500 block, the Communique offices at 512 E. Capitol Ave. have a crumbling side wall. Owner Steve Veile is a past president of the Historic City of Jefferson and a long-time advocate for the revitalization of Capitol Avenue.

"HCJ is confident he will find a way to save this beautifully restored building," Green said.

And front porch columns were knocked down at the recently-restored, antebellum Sugarbaker House, 503 E. High St. The owners plan to restore the home.

"Capitol Avenue is racing toward a critical point in its 175-plus year history," Green said. "Do we let this storm destroy the forward movement we've seen in this historic area for the past 20 years? Or, do we come together and fight to revitalize Capitol Avenue for future generations?"

To support the organization's Capitol Avenue preservation efforts, send a PayPal payment to hcjexec@gmail.com or mail a donation to HCJ, P.O. Box 105056, Jefferson City, Mo., 65110.