Down-they-go Abbey?

By Lawrence Cosentino

College puts three century-old houses up for auction; preservationist says it's an 'empty gesture'

Despite a flurry of objections from local preservationists, Lansing Community College is sticking to its plans to replace three century-old downtown houses at the southwest corner of North Capitol Avenue and Saginaw Street with a welcome area.

One of the homes, 205 W. Saginaw, was built in 1902 by department store owner F.N. Arbaugh and moved to its present location in 1940. The other two are 617 N. Capitol, built in 1888, and 211 W. Saginaw, built in 1898.

The college offered last week to sell off the homes to the highest bidder willing to move them, but the offer “is an empty gesture and it doesn’t change a thing,” according to Preservation Lansing’s Nathalie Winans, who chairs Lansing’s Historic District Commission.

“It’s the lowest hanging fruit they could possibly have offered,” Winans said. “It works out great for LCC because they don’t have to pay for the demo. You have to pay for moving the houses, buy the land to put them on, restore the foundation, electrical, et cetera.”

Winans said she expects the homes to be demolished.

However, LCC spokeswoman Ellen Jones said the college has received one letter of interest, from a person who wished to remain anonymous. “That person will be contacted by Purchasing to prepare documents to fulfill the RFP [Request for Proposal] criteria,” Jones said.

Jones said a meeting is scheduled at 1 p.m. today at the LCC Administration Building’s boardroom “for those who are interested in purchasing the houses.”

Minimum bid is a dollar.

Preservationists have suggested that rather than demolishing or moving the houses, the college restore them, perhaps as part of an academic training program.

“We do that with the Eastside Neighborhood Association and the Ingham County Land Bank with Restoration Works, but that’s not our plan for this parcel of land,” Jones said.

Winans and Brenna Moloney of Preservation Lansing and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network said moving the buildings should be a last resort because it would take them out of their context.

“I understand that two of these houses were moved already, but they have been there for 50 years,” Moloney said. “Their new location has earned some significance on its own.”

Moloney cited a 1997 study submitted to the city of Lansing, in which all three buildings were found to contribute to a potential historic district.

“Having gone through [the houses], I can see why that determination was made,” Moloney said. “All three of them have really nice features. You would hate to see these materials wasted and their presence in the neighborhood wasted as well.”

Winans dreads the “monumental signage” LCC plans to put up on in place of the houses almost as much as the demolition or removal of the houses themselves.

“If it’s anything like the ‘park-like space’ on the southeast side of campus, it will be like the berm between a K-Mart and a Wal-Mart,” Winans said. “It’s a very suburban use of land and not what we want in the neighborhood.”

Preservation Lansing only launched May 23, with the intention of giving awards to the best preservation projects in the city, but the LCC flare-up has forced the group to decide how far it wants to go in the direction of activism.

A range of options, from a Facebook page to direct action such as a public “funeral” for the houses, will be under discussion at a members-only meeting this week.

Stay current

Meeting 1 p.m. today at the LCC Administration Building board room for people interested in buying one of the three houses slated for summer demolition by Lansing Community College

Or call the LCC Purchasing Department and get a copy of the Request for Proposal at 483-1785 Monday-Friday between 7:30 and 4 p.m. Proposal due date: July 2