The city’s Historic Review Board this week tabled a request to demolish three houses on Vigo and Church streets so the owners of Fredrick and Son Funeral Homes can expand parking at their downtown location.
John Pielmeier, representing the funeral home, went before HRB members with a request to first tear down a green house at 317 Vigo St. then, later, two others at 314 and 316 Church St.
The plan, Pielmeier told the board, is to raze the three homes to create a larger parking lot for the funeral home and to give their customers — as well as visitors to downtown Vincennes via the Lincoln Memorial Bridge — a better, more clear view to the sprawling historic home that houses Fredrick and Son.
“We want a better view, a better entrance to the funeral home,” Pielmeier told the board.
“It will look a lot better for people coming over the bridge, especially, to see that green house gone,” he added.
And HRB members didn’t necessarily disagree, at least not about the house at 317 Vigo St., which was previously owned and occupied by Robert Deal.
Fredrick and Son has been buying properties in that square block for years with the intention of expanding their parking lot, Pielmeier said.
The green house on Vigo, most everyone agreed, is in deplorable condition and, perhaps, too far gone to save.
“The roof is falling in,” Pielmeier said. “It’s in a real state of disrepair.
“We’ve already been in touch with (Bicknell’s) Rod Mullins and have a quote. We’re hoping to get that one down soon,” he said.
HRB member Elizabeth Dunn agreed that while the green house on Vigo Street is “a neat old house, “it’s in bad bad shape.”
“It’s a beautiful little house,” added HRB president Tim Trotter, “they just let it go.”
“We bought it in that condition,” Pielmeier interjected.
“It’s just a shame,” Dunn replied.
But HRB members were reluctant to give up on the two houses on Church Street — white, two-story sister houses located directly across the from Fredrick and Son Funeral Home.
Pielmeier said the funeral home has been using them as rental properties, but the owners are ready to move forward with their plan to expand parking.
Both houses currently have tenants, he said; one is planning to move out at the end of the month.
Pielmeier described both houses as being “in bad shape” and “without central air” and that the funeral home is unlikely to make any repairs or updates to them.
“Well, I guess that depends on what you call bad shape,” Trotter countered.
HRB member Sarah Wolfe said they appeared to be “affordable rentals,” which is what many argue is lacking in downtown Vincennes.
“But the honest truth is that you have no intention of putting any money into these,” asked Dunn of Pielmeier, to which he argued that they simply “weren’t worth the money.”
“There’s just too much wrong,” he said of the Church Street sister houses.
HRB members disagreed, and Trotter said “tearing down buildings” is the exact opposite of what the HRB is “supposed to be doing.”
“But are they even historic?” Pielmeier asked, adding that he’s never seen either “on a historic tour.”
To that, Trotter said “all of the buildings” within the city’s designated Historic District — which is on the National Register of Historic Places — are important, whether they’re listed as “contributing, notable” or otherwise.
“Because they all, together, make Vincennes historic,” Trotter said.
“People may look at this one or that one and say, ‘That’s not historic,’ but the way the HRB looks at them is that each one has historic value, and they all make up the fabric of the Historic District.”
It’s the “variety” of the homes — whether “big or small” — in the city’s Historic District, added Wolfe, that makes it so special.
Pielmeier, however, said businesses that have chosen to invest in downtown and make it their home need to be able to have opportunities for expansion. And oftentimes the only way to do that is to buy homes and tear them down.
“Say we just build a new funeral home north of town,” Pielmeier told the the board. “Before long, everyone will be moving out of downtown.
“And if there are no businesses downtown, there won’t be a need to save these old homes at all,” he said.
Trotter understood the argument; it’s one the HRB revisits often enough.
“We want businesses to succeed, no question,” Trotter said. “But what we’ve been tasked with is trying to save these old homes.”
So the attitude toward the city’s historic homes, Trotter continued, must change.
Too often, they are simply left to rot.
“You can have a perfectly good house, one that is recoverable, but the owners don’t want to invest in it,” Trotter said. “They intentionally let the property go until it comes to a point that it isn’t cost effective to repair. Then the argument becomes, ‘It’s beyond repair. It will cost too much to fix it up.’ ”
“So do we just wait until these two (houses) are too far gone?” Pielmeier asked of the Church Street homes.
“The problem is changing that perception,” Trotter replied.
The HRB opted to table the request and allow others, specifically local residents, an opportunity to voice their support or opposition when the HRB meets again next month.
A date and time for that meeting will be publicized later.