1885 photo inspires C.P. building restoration

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1885 photo inspires C.P. building restoration

Postby Big Dog » Mon Jan 23, 2006 8:41 pm

1885 photo inspires C.P. building restoration

BY ROYAL M. HOPPER III
Times Correspondent
CROWN POINT | Some people look at buildings constructed when Geronimo roamed the Old West and see just old bricks, odd-shaped windows and aged wood.

When Frank Centofanti looked at the building on 100 S. Main St., he saw a grand old structure that had been stripped of its architectural glory in the rush to embrace all things modern. Now he's determined to bring it back to life, no matter how hard it is to find the pieces needed to complete the restoration puzzle.

"We are still looking for these columns," Centofanti said, pointing at a picture of the 120-year-old building he said dates to 1885.

With help from the Crown Point Redevelopment Program, Centofanti plans to restore as much of the building to its original state as possible. The program pays up to 50 percent of a project, up to $50,000.

Centofanti said the bill for upper-floor renovations will be as much as $76,000. The entire project will cost $100,000 or more.

The scaffolding is already in place in front of the massage school now housed in the building. Construction should begin this week. At the top of the restoration list are the roof peaks and capped chimneys.

One of the old pictures Centofanti is using as a guide for the restoration shows capped chimneys and triangular roof peaks. The bottom floor housed what is believed to be a butcher shop or grocer. The top floor was an attorney's office. The picture shows the grocers or butchers lounging in front of the store in their long white coats and a horse-drawn delivery carriage nearby.

A native of central Italy, Centofanti is a former self-employed ceramic tile installer. He moved to the United States when he was 13 and got a job at the Budd Co. Gary plant. It closed in 1982. He operated a tile installation business throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and his wife, Livia, ran a gift shop. Now retired, both have been Crown Point residents since 1978.

Gale Miller, the former owner of the building and owner and manager of the massage school, said he and his wife, Elizabeth, have taken great care in preserving as much of the inside of the old building as possible. He is not related to the Miller who owned the grocer or butcher shop.

The tall wood-framed doors topped with clear window panes, called transoms, have been left intact, and the seasoned century-old wood that makes up much of the interior has been left stained but unpainted in the style of the time.

The transoms, a feature in many old movies, are opened from the inside with a push rod attached to the window frame. They were designed to allow air and light to flow from room to a room in an era before air conditioning and cheap electric lights, Miller said.

Although the Main Street building is his first restoration project, Centofanti has a passion for restoring old buildings. He said he hopes restoration work will catch on in other parts of the square.
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