On the third floor of the Hyde Block building, up a vintage-looking staircase and past the gas-lamp replicas is a door that leads to nowhere – no corridor, no room behind it, only a portal into a time that can only be accessed by furnishings of a certain era. That is its purpose.
“Our old buildings are the only thing we have to show our children of what this town used to be like,” the building’s owner, Fred Thurston, said. “If we lose our downtowns, we lose an important factor in our history.”
And making his building look as close to its past as possible is a passion of his.
Using that door to show off what the screen doors looked like in the past, even if it is impractical, is just one of the many painstaking measures Thurston took when he began historically restoring the building on Upper Pierre Street.
But he is not alone. Revitalizing Upper Pierre Street is a trend that has been taking place for years.
The historic buildings on Upper Pierre Street are the result of Charles Lee Hyde, who built them between 1906 and 1909.
The entrepreneur, from Illinois, settled in Pierre in the late 1880s, according to the National Park Service.
“Hyde built several businesses along Lower Pierre Street before developing the commercial district on Upper Pierre Street,” according to the National Park Service website, “Many envious people, particularly in the flat district, disliked Mr. Hyde because of his success and because they opposed development of the Upper Pierre Street District on the hill.”
Jason Glodt, who owns the Grand Opera House in the historic district, said the area is rich in history. For instance, he said, the third floor of the opera house was used for Coe Isaac Crawford’s inaugural ball after he was elected as South Dakota’s sixth governor in 1907. Many years later, Lawrence Welk’s orchestra also played in the building.
To get to the future of Upper Pierre Street, three business owners are taking a trip back in time. Down the dark corridors filled with dusty doors, tables and tin ceiling pieces, April Smart, Glodt and Thurston can see the future.
“It is exciting to see what else is happening now,” Glodt said. “All of the buildings on Upper Pierre Street are under renovation. We are really excited about turning that blighted area into something the community can be proud of.”
Just 10 years ago, when Glodt bought the Grand Opera House, Upper Pierre Street was an eyesore, he said.
The buildings were dilapidated both outside and in, said Smart, who owns the building that houses Foster Rentals, Smart Software Solutions and a few other businesses.
The three business owners on Upper Pierre Street have been slowly restoring Hyde’s work – restoring the tin ceilings, finding the original wood floors, rebuilding staircases, installing replica fixtures and much more.
Glodt, owns the area on the southwest side of the street before the alley. Smart has the area on the east side of the street, while Thurston owns the northwest building.
Together, but separately, they have been quietly restoring history.
The goal is to make their buildings feel new while making them look old and in the process revitalize an area that they feel passionate about.
“A city’s downtown is its heart and soul and its first impression for a lot of visitors to your community,” Glodt said. “It is also your community’s identity and we felt that was worth preserving.”
And although it is a slow process, all three are making progress.
Glodt recently completed a renovation on the area that Spiceleaf currently occupies and plans to start on the Grand Opera House itself in coming years. Glodt does almost all of the work himself.
Smart has renovated the area where Foster Rentals, Smart Solutions and other businesses are and has plans for the upper floors of the buildings as well.
The third floor of Thurston’s building, which houses the federal public defender’s office, and work on the other floors has started, but will not be completed until he finds tenants so he can tailor the construction to their business needs.
But the success hasn’t come without plenty of challenges. When Smart starting renovating, just finding the original floors was a challenge. In some cases they weren’t buried under one layer of carpet, but eight.
“There was one point in Smart Software where we pulled out a couple layers of carpet and then we found Astroturf, and underneath that was carpet that was made to look like wood and then underneath that were several layers of vinyl,” she said.
Thurston may be doing the most painstaking work as he is taking his building beyond historic; he is also making it LEED-certified.
LEED certification essentially means the building is very sustainable, which is not an easy task to do with a historic building.
“If you think about it our historic buildings are probably the least efficient buildings that you could find because they didn’t insulate walls at all,” he said. “They had inefficient heating systems going, the windows had no insulated glass to them, they frequently didn’t have storm windows. The buildings leaked like a sieve. So taking a historic building and making it a LEED-certified building is very challenging.”
All of the owners agreed renovating and in some cases even maintaining historic buildings is not a cheap endeavor.
“We just have a more expensive hobby than everyone else,” Smart said.
The city of Pierre is planning a complete reconstruction of the street and sidewalk on Upper Pierre Street for next summer.
The reconstruction will essentially be building-to-building. In addition to reconstructing the street surface; replacing the water main, sanitary sewer and storm sewer; the sidewalks will also be replaced, Pierre Mayor Laurie Gill said.
The city has talked about the project for several years and had planned to do it in 2011, but postponed it due to the flood.
Gill said if all goes well, construction should start in 2013 and be completed that same year.
The city is working closely with the area’s business owners on the design of the project, including the sidewalks. In the latest draft, the project calls for bumped-out sections of sidewalk and diagonal parking instead of parallel.
In addition, the city has budgeted for the design work to be prepared for Lower Pierre Street.