The Detroit area has a well-known (and likely well-deserved) reputation for not preserving many of their historical structures (mention Tiger Stadium and one will grasp the frustration). Tear-downs in the name of "progress" have also permeated some structures Downriver in the last thirty years.
The most-known potential site for historic demolition is currently the old Neisner building in downtown Lincoln Park, ironically located across Fort Street from the recently restored Park Theater; itself located just a few blocks north of the historic (though demolished) Mellus Newspapers building.
In these cases, some of the biggest pains felt lie in watching a building deteriorate with disuse until demolition becomes the only answer. I am definitely one who believes more care needs to be used on these older buildings, ones filled with design thought and façade details from the moment they go dormant.
One big exception looms, though, north of downtown Trenton: the old Riverside Hospital.
Old, abandoned medical facilities have long been revered by "ruins" experts and ghost hunters and do have a fascinating draw about them (examples of such include Eloise in Westland, and the Northville Psychiatric Center). However, Riverside does not meet this criterion.
Progress on the property is stalled yet again, due to ownership issues and lack of responsibilities being met in a city agreement. The only demolition to this point has been to the central administration building (the original red-brick structure, which may have contained the "ghosts" cited) and the power plant. These were arguably the only real historic buildings on the site. What remains dates only from the 1950s forward and does not present anything we can judge as "historical".
The complex appears to be nothing more than a crazy maze of buildings and wings to nowhere. The interior deterioration is especially noted, but was to be muted following guidelines of the above agreement, in hopes for a successful re-use.
The owner shifted his sites instead to the long-dormant plaza at Fort & King Roads, which looks golden on the surface. There is more space, more potential customers due to more traffic, and bigger plans could be forthcoming. Yet as of this writing, even this space stands idly, as forlorn as the riverfront site due east.
Whether the properties' owner is a man of his word or not is not debatable fodder for this column, as we try not to question peoples' motivations. But the "bottom line" continues to deteriorate before our eyes. Agreements can be long and drug-out, and things do take time. But we don't believe the timetable for a resolution is moving fast enough; not only for Riverside, but for the McLouth Steel property due north of the medical complex.
Does Riverside merit saving? In my opinion, it does not. Years ago, it was determined the old VA Hospital in Allen Park was not worth saving, in spite of all it did for the veterans in our area for generations. As perfect as its architectural greatness fit the area and its sheer imposing factor lent a sense of royalty to the purpose, the building was simply too outdated from an infrastructure standpoint to have a cost-conscious renovation... nor was it worth the potential of spending years in a mothballed state.
Riverside has been out of service for a longer period of time, and without the true emotional appeal that other sites such as the VA merited.
The time cannot come soon enough for some progress to be made on the Trenton waterfront. Such an idea is not a pipe dream; we never believed a Detroit Riverwalk would ever come to fruition, for instance... and now its recovered lands & condition are astoundingly positive - and believable.
History needs to step aside in this case, and let adaptive reuse dominate an area needing it the most. This also will allow for "one owner, one site" in Riverview, where plans can more realistically be achieved.
Riverside Hospital needs to go.
Courtesy LESLIE LYNCH-WILSON and LITA TONEY
Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance
We are in jeopardy of losing the historic art deco Neisner Dime Store Building, 1736 Fort Street, Lincoln Park due to a proposed grocery story by Save-A-Lot to encompass 1736 and 1716 Fort Street. Neisner Dime Store building is located within the National Register of Historic Places-Eligible North Fort Street Historic District. Not only would we lose a historically significant structure but it would also greatly impact our ability to getting the Federal 20% historic preservation tax credit for contributing properties within the historic district.
Save A Lot wants the DDA to replace the back parking lot, remove some planter boxes and trees as well as commit to snow removal of the parking lot which is already being done during the winter. They also want the DDA to replace a portion of the parking lot. Snow removal is already being done. And wants the DDA to not to object to the sign on top of the building which remains from the Arbor Drug Store days as well as a 2nd sign out by Southfield Road. They also want to change the traffic direction of the alley.
The DDA approved a not to exceed figure for the work. Only Nay was Leslie Lynch-Wilson. The DDA feels that the side walk and parking lot need to be done regardless. Save A Lot proposes a 15,000 square foot building within the CVS building, demo Neisner Building to add onto the building, and create a walk way to connect pedestrian foot traffic from Fort Street to rear lot. Basically DDA felt that the design was ugly, wanted more windows on Fort Street side.
(Lincoln Park Emergency Manager Brad) Coulter said that they were starting with an ugly building. The coolers are also along that 'back' wall which prevents windows. There is a door and awning on the Fort Street side but the main door would be parking lot side. Pete Romain felt that the layout of the store was wrong. Coulter said that brokers have said that LP is a pass through community and that we need to do something so that Detroit doesn't move in. Coulter's attitude was like we need to do something and like somethings better than nothing. But the DDA had the same attitude on the condos and look where that got the DDA. Property owner would invest $1.5 million into the property with Save A Lot leasing for 10 years.
Evidently other communities are being considered and Save A Lot had a hard sell on their investment committee due to the rear parking lot. As to the National Register of Historic Places Historic District - the status is that the northwest side of Fort Street from Fort & Southfield (old Woolworth building) to Euclid and across to the Park Theatre and the old bank is part of a the National Register of Historic Places- Eligible Historic District known as the North Fort Street Historic District. Yes, declared "eligible" by the National Register Coordinator at the Michigan Historic Preservation Office, Lansing, MI in 2008.
Why not complete? It typically takes a year of research and writing to complete and get approved a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. A historic district is very extensive work compared to a single building. A consultant has been needed to be hired to do the nomination on a timely basis. LPPA has the funds but one consultant felt that the project was not the best fit for them and another consultant did not want to do the project because she did not want to take LPPA's hard earned money. The price for a consultant is $6000 or $5000 if LPPA does the photography themselves. LPPA then recruited a volunteer who eventually quit due to lack of time for the project. The other issue with the DDA supporting the demolition of Save A Lot is that the DDA is an associated member of Michigan Main Street. The Main Street program is all about historic preservation. DDA risks that status. However, eligibility is enough in the event if Federal funds (as opposed to private funds) would be used. Then the developer and Save A Lot would have to go through a Section 106 Review with the MI State Historic Preservation Office.
POST-SCRIPT: In late 2014, the Neisner building was in fact torn down, and the Save-A-Lot opened in late 2015.