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The owners of the former La Crosse Plow Co. building on Second Street have applied to have it added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Such a designation could make 525 N. Second St. next to the Oktoberfest grounds eligible for historic-tax credits, which representatives of the Cleary family have indicated they plan to seek to renovate the two-block former factory, said Tim Acklin, La Crosse senior planner.

He did not say what the Clearys might have in mind for the building, which has been vacant since 1995; the north section was condemned in 2013 due to a crumbling roof.

A spokesperson for the Cleary family was not available Monday.

But with the new Hampton Inn hotel nearing completion just across Second Street from the building, this could be “another great project that revitalizes that area downtown,” Acklin said.

“It just adds to all the amazing things that are going on in our downtown right now,” Acklin said.

The building was part of the now-defunct Allis-Chalmers Co. operations for four decades, producing tractors and agricultural implements for what then was one of the industry’s largest manufacturers in the United States.

The northern half of the building — which now has “Oktoberfest” letters on its north face — dates to between 1909 and 1914, while the three-level, flat-roofed brick section with large, industrial windows was built in 1937-38 after Allis-Chalmers acquired the site in 1929, according to Preservation Alliance of La Crosse president Barbara Kooiman, who prepared the application.

The manufacturing site grew out of a blacksmith operation that produced plows, rakes and other agricultural equipment designed to be pulled by horses. Albert Hirshheimer incorporated the business as the La Crosse Plow Co. in 1893, becoming one of the city’s main manufacturers by 1912, according to Kooiman’s research.

The company relocated from Third and Pine streets to the new site at Second and La Crosse between 1909 and 1914, growing “large enough to attract the attention” of West Allis, Wis.-based Allis-Chalmers, Kooiman wrote in the application.

Under Allis-Chalmers, the La Crosse factory at its height employed 1,250 and was producing about 10 percent of the company’s orange tractors, or about 200,000 units in 1950. The entire building has a footprint of about 121,578 square feet, slightly more than the size of two football fields, according to Kooiman.

When it closed in 1969 as Allis-Chalmers struggled, the local operation was the city’s second-largest payer of real estate and personal property taxes behind only Trane Co., according to the application.

The 3.6-acre property then housed Machine Products Company, later known as Precision Technology Inc., making jet engine parts until it failed in 1995, Kooiman wrote.

While windows were replaced on the second and third floors in the southern building in 2003, they are of a similar style to the original and did not alter the openings, according to the application. The stucco façade on the north section is not original but dates back at least 40 years.

“Overall, the building displays a high degree of integrity,” Kooiman said in the application.

The state review board that oversees applications to the national registry is scheduled to consider the building Nov. 20, Acklin said.

An application also has been submitted to list the 91-year-old Roosevelt School, closed since June 2014, but it will not come before the board until 2016.

Gorman & Co. Inc. has proposed converting the North Side school at 1307 Hayes St. into affordable housing. The Oregon, Wis.-based developer was turned down by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority for low-income housing tax credits earlier this year.

Ted Matkom, Gorman’s Wisconsin market president, said at the time the company would seek alternative funding and tax credits for the project. He could not be reached Monday for comment.

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(15) comments

DoubleJ1203

This "eye sore" provided La Crosse and the surrounding area with many jobs for many years. It's one of the last of the original factories that once graced Second Street. How many people today even know that Second Street was the hub of manufacturing in LA Crosse? How many people know that Northern Engraving originated on Second Street? Or Inland Printing? How many people know what Gateway Products was?

Putting this old building on the historical register would preserve the history of a bygone era. It would be a tip of the cap to the once booming industry of Second Street and the folks who punched the clock in these places.

Thinkingoutloud

There's no real visual historical value in that building, it's just an old building that was partially condemned already. The building is on top of a bunch of saw dust that made it difficult to pour solid bases for some of the machinery that graced it's interior. Also the site is a chemical cocktail of stuff that was disposed of illegally back in it's manufacturing days. Acids, oils and coolants to name a few. You can tip your hat to me all you want, but don't use my tax money to fix this place up.

MartinIZing

But are there people in LaCrosse who can afford to live there after these improvements are made? Or will this end up being one subsidy after another? When will it start to contribute to the tax roles like all other properties in the city do currently . . . except for schools, churches, government buildings and the currently subsidized freeloaders?

Jim Rosenberg

Tax credit projects like this are competitive and limited. If that funding doesn't come to create tax base, construction jobs and new vitality in La Crosse, it won't be saved. It will simply go somewhere else to help fund projects in other communities. Gorman & Company is a first class operator with a specialty in re-purposing old buildings, turning them into assets instead of decaying eyesores. La Crosse is fortunate to have some local investors who are willing to take on big projects like this. The Gund Brewery Lofts -- http://www.gundbrewerylofts.com/ -- are an example of a Gorman project that improved the neighborhood while providing an important new housing option. It is a false choice to say that a building should be demolished and replaced with something shiny and new, since that is not what is on the table. The more appropriate question is whether La Crosse is better off with this renovation or without it. Given the solid track record of the developer, the answer seems clear.

First base

If they tear it down the property would probably be worthless. It would cost a fortune to clean up the soil and ground water.

Bucky Fan

The Cleary family should be ashamed for keeping this huge eyesore still standing. And now they are asking for taxpayers credits to fix it up and put it on the National Register of Historic Places.? Are they serious? Are they a bunch of money grubbers or what? Should we past the hat for them? The people of La Crosse can be very proud of their downtown with all of the recent improvements with this one exception. And if you think keeping it standing and changing its name will improve it I suggest you go up to Eau Claire and checkout the old tire factory which they now call Banbury Place but its still the old ugly tire factory. And why anybody would listen to this Barbara Kooiman and her fellow nut-jobs on the Preservation Alliance of La Crosse is beyond me.

LAX

And you've done what that's positive to improve the City of La Crosse??? Real classy, calling folks names...get a life!

lookout

It's just an old building with a leaky roof that should be torn down.

Thinkingoutloud

Well said lookout

QNOFMEAN

Sounds like you got an axe to going with Cleary and the Preservation. How about shame on you. Keeping historical buildings and such is important and these people take their hard work seriously. Take a trip to Europe or go online to see just what preservation looks like and means.

lookout

This building doesn't deserve historic status under any circumstances. It's just another way to get away with not paying taxes. Steve Cleary is smart about taking tax dollars away from the city in this manner. But just because this building is built on the site of an old blacksmiths shop doesn't mean it deserves to be tax exempt from paying all the taxes it should. It's just a block and brick building and there's nothing special about it.

hrpufnstuf

Great to see. Once the bricked up windows get put back the building it will look great. The stucco has to go though.

lacrosseguy

Here I was just talking to my wife during Oktoberfest about how we really hope this eyesore will be getting torn down soon. That would be really prime real estate. Now they want to preserve it? Wonderful.

TD

That building would be really cool to convert into large open concept modern loft apartments or condos. Take the first floor and make it a parking garage for residents and the 2nd and 3rd floors lofts.

Twelve Percent

Yep, that's exactly what I was thinking!! Great idea.

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