I have a sordid history with historic buildings. I have a tendency to fall fast and hard....and then have my heart broken.
I remember driving down Fulton Avenue with my friend Brian. This was back when you could still get a Honey Fluff Donut from the little bakery next to the historic Civic Theater. He gestured to the left. "That's my favorite house. I'm going to marry Bjork and live in it." I glanced over at this dilapidated Queen Anne, the spookiest, most deliciously cartoony place I had ever seen, and my heart skipped a beat. "I'll be your maid," I offered. I'd do pretty much anything to live in a place like that.
I didn't know that this house was one of three mansions on Fulton owned by the Cook Family. The Henry Cook house is better known, but Charles Cook's house was the one that quickened my heart with its mystery. Part Hansel and Gretel, part Norman Bates, all Kate.
I went off to college, and when I came home during a break I once again drove down Fulton, this time with my dad. I let out a blood curdling scream....the Charles Cook house was GONE.
I don't think it ever occurred to me that something like that could happen. Who could look at a place like that, with its whimsical lines, its witch's hat turret, the marquis cut window, and decide it needed to be destroyed?
Of course there are also the properties that while preserved are improved to death. I learned about Lustron homes from an aunt of mine who knew something like that would be right up my alley.
These prefabricated enameled steel houses came in a variety of colors, including pink, blue, yellow and gunmetal grey. They were intended to be inexpensive post-war housing for veterans. Less than 2,500 of these homes were built, meaning the ones that remain are true American treasures.
It wasn't long after I learned about Lustron that one came for sale in my neighborhood. A gunmetal grey, three bedroom model on a corner lot, with an addition of an attached garage and family room that managed to enhance the livability of the house without ruining its historic appeal.
That's it! I was going to buy this house, have it registered as a historic landmark and turn it into a museum! My 50s pink sofa and grey, pink and aqua barkcloth curtains would look so fetching against the grey metal walls (yes, they were metal inside and out!) I could have a magnet collection! I'd have an excuse to wear angora sweaters and circle skirts every day as a tour guide! And how easy would this place be to CLEAN?
That's when I learned about "unusual construction" and how difficult it was to finance. And then it disappeared from REALTOR.com and a "SOLD" sign appeared in the yard. I still held out hope though...surely it would come up for sale again in a few years?
And it was another scenic day out driving when I learned the horrible truth, and let out another scream. My Lustron still stood...but it was covered with grey vinyl siding. It still stings.
I know the deep, visceral impact a beautiful or interesting piece of architecture can have on a person. I feel l have personal relationships with many of the beautiful buildings in Evansville. Luckily for me, lately the buildings I have taken a shine to lately are being restored instead of destroyed.
Buildings like our glorious Greyhound Station, now finally being renovated!
The Usonian wonder, the Peters-Margadent house, built by Frank Lloyd Wright's son-in-law, protégé and right hand man William Wesley Peters. Less than 600 square feet, this tiny house packs a huge historic wallop and will soon be relocated to University Of Evansville, the alma-mater of its architect.
And that brings us to Owen Block. Anyone who has been paying attention in Evansville for the past week knows a great deal about this stunning French Second Empire Victorian dynamo. Painted a distinctive blue color in the 1950s, this row home originally was built with four housing compartments in 1882 by Dr. Abraham Owen.
Despite it's grandeur, or perhaps because of it, the building has been mouldering on the corner of Second and Chestnut for at least a decade. Failed investments led to it being essentially abandoned. Over time, this impressive edifice began to succumb to the elements.
Many residents, myself included, would walk by, gazing at this incredible structure and wish and hope and dream that somebody would swoop in and rescue it.
It's truly a unique building, a one of a kind place in Evansville's historic district. It's not a bit out of place, for Evansville has a wealth of historic Victorian era homes. But there's something about this building that tastes like New York. The feel is distinctly urban, classically beautiful but with a beat-box edge.
There's someone that loves this building even more than I do, and that's my friend Jesika. I have heard her wax rhapsodically about this building many times, even before I knew what it was called. (I always thought of it as the "big blue building that looks like New York".) We talked about it so much that my husband Hugh thought Owen Block was "some dude we all really liked." (Actually, pretty accurate!)
Jesika loves this "dude" so much she started the Owen Block Preservation Effort on Facebook. The city has already been working behind the scenes to try and secure the building, but this grassroots effort is the push we all needed to step up and recognize that if we don't band together, a precious symbol of historic Evansville will be lost. At nearly 1900 likes in less than a week's time the citizens of Evansville are truly showing their passion for our vibrant works of art, even those that come in the shape of buildings!
While the Department of Metropolitan Development and Indiana Landmarks are working hard to secure the funding, it ain't over till it's over. In the meantime, we need to keep spreading awareness, and making donations! Please like the Owen Block Preservation Effort Facebook page, and read through the information to learn all you can about this amazing building. Then click over to the Indiana Landmarks donation page and earmark a few dollars towards the salvation of this precious architecture! Be sure to include the words "Owen Block" in the comment section!
And just to keep that grassroots spirit alive, take little trip downtown to see Mr. Owen Block himself. Snap a selfie with your cell and post it to the page, with the hashtags #OBPE and #Blockheads.
I'm not prepared to have another drive-by screaming episode. Let's save Owen Block, together.