Saving old buildings

There’s an old building in downtown Bemidji that used to house the Masonic lodge that has been vacant for a long time. It was announced earlier this week that Bemidji’s Watermark Art Center has received a grant that will allow it to buy — and then demolish — the building. You can read about that here at the Bemidji Pioneer.

The immediate reaction is totally predictable — and it falls along the lines of “why put in the effort to save buildings like this when you can just spend three months replacing it with something made of styrofoam and spackle?”

I just wish we could maybe drill into Americans’ heads that if you want to save buildings like this, efforts have to be made to take care of them all along. Too often you have these remarkable old places that are just left derelict for decades, and then saving them becomes this amazingly expensive proposition. But had they only found some way to take care of them all along… It reminds me of that fabulous old hospital building in downtown Ely  That place should be amazing, and it’s just sitting there empty and rotting away. But you watch, when the time comes that a decision is made to tear it down, people will come out of the woodwork trying to save that building. But right now nobody seems to give a crap about it.

People like to point to Europe and all of the hundreds-of-years-old buildings they have over there as an indication that we’re doing it wrong. But what they totally gloss over is the fact that those centuries-old palaces and castles over there have had *armies* of caretakers for each of those centuries. They stand because people have made great and enduring efforts to make sure they stand, not because they’ve just magically willed it to be so. THAT is what we haven’t gotten right — it’s not that we lack the desire to preserve history, but not enough people have the will to do the work along the way to make sure it happens. They just want to swing in at the end of a building’s life, waive a wand and save it, regardless of its condition or ability to be saved.

Andy Bartlett

By day, I am the executive director of communications and marketing at Bemidji State University. The rest of the time, I'm a husband, father of three, and proponent of super heroes, lasers, space ships and explosions.

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