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Loft walk spotlights Commercial victories

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by Patrick Nolan

SBJ Contributing Writer

Things are shaping up uptown.

Commercial Street property owners are making a difference in old Springfield, and some of the results of their hard work were showcased at last weekend's Bohemian Ball and Loft Walk Sept. 6.

Small shops with cloth awnings sharply contrast the south side's strip malls and huge retail developments. Commercial Street sets itself apart as a historic urban area, with on-street parking, wide sidewalks and lots of windows to shop.

Commercial Street is also a focal point for the surrounding neighborhoods. When the street was in decay, the surrounding neighborhoods decayed, as well, said Mary Collette, owner of Collette Studios and two other buildings on the street. Now both residential neighborhoods and the Commercial Street district take pride in the region's accomplishments in revitalizing historic Springfield.

The lofts featured on this year's Commercial Street Loft Walk included Peter Tinsen's loft at 214 W. Commercial. Last year, Tinsen's loft was under construction. This year the finished product was featured, according to Christine Schilling, arts ambassador for the Commercial Club.

Gary and Ann Waldrop's loft at 216 W. Commercial, the former office space of Dr. Tickle, was featured again this year. The Waldrops' loft is also home to Commercial Street's first-ever rooftop deck.

Scott Kissell's loft at 202 E. Commercial is under construction, as is the apartment next to it. Kissell will use the downstairs portion of the building for a commercial space, to develop the handcrafted furniture he makes, Schilling said.

A pair of apartments at 210 E. Commercial were also featured. Radio personality George Spankmeister's apartment and that of his neighbor, Randy Buckmaster, were featured.

Husband and wife Jim Downing and Nancy Hackett have a two-story structure at 326 E. Commercial that was part of the walk. A finished apartment downstairs and a partially-finished upstairs apartment were included in the event.

Also, two apartments in the Ollis Building at 408 E. Commercial, part of The Kitchen's transitional housing program, were shown, Schilling said.

The Commercial Street area is home to artists, radio personalities, chefs and people from every class and walk of life. "I guess you could kind of call it Greenwich Village of the Ozarks," Collette said. "The real risk-takers and artists came here because the property values were low. This community can be proud of this area.

"There is a cultural community here. You get hooked on the environment," she added.

Gary Waldrop, a.k.a. Dr. Tickle, moved into the area almost 20 years ago. "This was cannery row," he said. "I bought this building for $18,000. Now it's become Greenwich Village."

And each building has a story of its own, he said. Waldrop's building once housed the office of local physician Dr. Tickle. Waldrop has been approached by people who were born in the building, people who met their future mates in the building and others who have personal memories related to the location.

"This building has seen it all, births and deaths," Waldrop said. "It's really neat all the people that come to me and want to tour the building."

The Commercial Street section of town was built from 1882 to 1886, Waldrop said. Then there was a kind of Monopoly game being played, with everyone trying to buy up all the properties. "Now there's a huge resurgence, and another Monopoly game going on," he said.

In the 1880s the west end of Commercial Street tended to be industrial in character.

The location of the streetcar lines and freight depot caused Boonville to be the principal north-south corridor between "Old Town" and "New Town."

The increasing interdependence of Springfield and North Springfield led to support for their consolidation in 1887.

Waldrop said the city's north-south rivalry is still continuing. "Look at Chesterfield Village," he said. "They tried to build a copy of what we already have here."

All it takes is somebody with the creativity to look at these old buildings and see what they can be, Waldrop said.

When you renovate these building you have to listen to what the building has to say, Collette said. This can be much more difficult than new construction because the palette has already been chosen.

The lofts are a resurrection of something beautiful, and the owners, the renovators, put a piece of themselves in the process, she said.

"We're taking the spaces that have been under-utilized and making them into destinations. This area brings back memories of childhood afternoons spent at Grandma's," Collette said.

"Anybody who has lived in Springfield for a couple of generations has either lived over here or come over here as a destination, and we are seeing that again," she added. "This is kind of the bedroom community for downtown. We have everything from people at Victory Mission and the Missouri Hotel to a chef and a renowned local painter its almost like every part of society is represented here."

Waldrop concurred, saying there is a community feel in the Commercial Street neighborhood.

From the Frisco Railroad Museum to the Commercial Club's Open Air Sculpture Gallery, the area is awash in history and culture. "All the things, all the history, that's what makes us who we are," Waldrop said.

When these older buildings are torn down, a piece of somebody's life, their past, is destroyed, and you can never replace that, he added.

PHOTO CAPTION:

Gary Waldrop recently added a rooftop deck to his loft home. He bought his building 20 years ago for $18,000.

PHOTO CAPTION:

Gary Waldrop's home, a loft at 216 W. Commercial, was featured on this year's loft walk.[[In-content Ad]]

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