First Presbyterian Church's offer to buy the Skaff/Colman house at 207 West Ave. S. was a wake-up call to the historical preservation community, said Barbara Kooiman, president of the Preservation Alliance of La Crosse.
"We've been sort of coasting the last couple of years," she said, doing educational programs and selling ornaments depicting historic sites.
But the uncertain future of the Skaff/Colman house is the kind of controversy that gave birth to PAL, which came into being in 1976 when the old post office was coming down, and it has galvanized the group's members, Kooiman said.
And at the request of the Tribune, the group put together a list of other properties that they and other historic preservation groups and commissions are watching and missing. Many of La Crosse's historic buildings have been lost to deferred maintenance, Kooiman said, which is why it's important to keep an eye on them.
"This list isn't intended to be a judgement on anyone who owns any of these," Kooiman said. "It's more an awareness."
Five most endangered
Besides the Colman/Skaff House)
- North Side Masonic Temple/Exchange State Bank building, 800 George St., home to Buzz's Bikes - Kooiman said the building is badly deteriorated, which is why it's on the list. "The upstairs back section is in rough shape, and it's got a bad roof. It's one of those deferred maintenance issues."
- Oehler Rural Historic District, town of Shelby - "This is one that has been on the radar of the county Historic Preservation Commission for a little while," Kooiman said. Encroaching development is her biggest fear for this historic piece of land that once probably was home to a small settlement of Mormons. Along Hwy. M is the Oehler family cemetery, a pristine rural area, the remains of a dugout cellar, the old stone Oehler's Mill and Oehler's Cave. "People used to have picnics out there. … It's this gorgeous rustic road drive, and most people don't know it's there."
- F.M. Rublee/Cadwallader C. Washburn House, 612 Ferry St. - This house should be saved as much for who lived here as for its architectural history, Kooiman said. Cadwallader Washburn owned and lived in the house when he was governor of Wisconsin. The house is badly deteriorated, she said, and much of the original facade, which likely was brick, was later covered by stucco. "But the windows in that thing, they are as big as doors. It had little corner porches, and a cupola, but a lot of it is missing."
- La Crosse Rubber Mills, 1407 St. Andrew St. - Kooiman is concerned because it is being altered. After much back and forth between the owners and the Heritage Preservation Commission, on which Kooiman also serves, the commission allowed the owners to alter the windows. Anyone familiar with the building knows that's no small thing, because that building is all windows, she said. While she went along as a commission member because she's a realist, as a member of PAL Kooiman is not happy. "It's losing its historic integrity."
- Naval Reserve Training Center, 2226 Green Bay St. - This building is being decommissioned and its fate is not yet set. Because it is a World War II-era building, it probably was not very well built, Kooiman said, and might be difficult to preserve. "It's probably not the prettiest building on the face of the planet, but it is historically intact."
Eight biggest losses
- La Crosse County Courthouse - The third of La Crosse's five courthouses, the steel and concrete La Crosse County Courthouse was built in 1903-04 on the square bounded by Third, Fourth, State and Vine streets. It was torn down to make way for the new courthouse across Fourth Street to the northeast, which was dedicated in 1965.
- La Crosse Public Library - The original city public library, built in 1888, was a Queen Anne/Romanesque Revival brick building with a round turret. The library was razed in 1966 to make way for the current library on the same location at Eighth and Main streets
- La Crosse Post Office - The first post office was a three-story red brick Romanesque Revival building dedicated in 1890. It housed the post office, the custom house officers and the U.S. Weather Bureau. The federal government decided a new building was needed and tore it down in 1976 to make way for the current post office, built on the same location at Fourth and State streets.
- William and Ellen Cargill House - Though associated with the grain business, the Cargills were local philanthropists. Their grand mansion was built in 1881-83 at the northeast corner of Cass Street and West Avenue and extensively remodeled in 1896 to about 1906 by Ellen Cargill. The Cargill estate gifted the house to First Presbyterian Church in 1927. The church maintained the house until maintenance prohibited continued use. It was razed in 1975, after local preservationists listed it on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, only the fence remains in front of the new addition to First Presbyterian Church.
- The W.A. Sutor House - The circa-1890 Victorian style house had stood on the northeast corner of 11th and King streets for more than 100 years when the YMCA decided it needed the lot for future expansion. It was dismantled in about 1992, and moved to another location. The lot remains vacant.
- The Zeisler House - George Zeisler built this stone house on Third Street near his Bavarian-style brewery. The brewery was started in 1867, so the stone house probably was built about that time. It likely was the oldest stone house in the city, with the possible exception of the Mons Anderson House. It was torn down in the 1980s.
- Stoddard Hotel - The five-story hotel was a brick Romanesque Revival hotel built in 1903, and considered to be the most upscale hotel in La Crosse. It was demolished in 1982 due to deterioration. Its former location now is the parking lot for State Bank of La Crosse at the southeast corner of Fourth and State streets, adjacent to the former post office and courthouse.
- Michel Brewery - This was a state-of-the art building for the brewing industry when constructed of reinforced concrete and brick in 1905. The six-story building, with its prominent arch, was torn down in 1996 to make way for a used car parking lot.
Five best saves
- Holway House, 1419 Cass St. - This grand mansion had been split into apartments for use by the La Crosse Diocese in the 1950s. The Carlisle family purchased it in the 1970s, renovated it and recently sold it to owners who are doing further improvements.
- Bentley-Wheeler House, 952 Cass St. - This three-story, Queen Anne-style house built in 1891 had been converted to eight apartments in the 1920s and was in poor repair when Ken Riley and Jay Lokken purchased it a few years ago. They removed the porch enclosures, refurbished all the rooms, finished the attic and returned the house to single family.
- Mons Anderson House, 410 Cass St. - This house was in poor shape when Bob Poehling purchased it and did a complete restoration, with a new kitchen and several bathrooms, while restoring the library on the upper floor.
- Masonic Temple, 724 Main St. - The Masons built a new structure next to their old Masonic Temple and sought someone to use the old building, which needed a new roof and much renovation. The Ho-Chunk Nation took the building and renovated it for their use.
- Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Depot, 601 St. Andrews St. - Better known as the Amtrak Depot to many, this 1926 depot was in bad shape, with water in the basement and vermin traps in the restrooms. The city received a substantial federal transportation grant about 10 years ago and renovated the building into offices, a restaurant and a bus depot.
For more information on PAL, go to www.preservation-alliance.org.