March 16 2016 12:54 AM

Scott House fight long overdue

Our Mayor for Life took two members of the Parks Board to the woodshed last week after they threw a monkey wrench into the rush to replace the neglected Scott House and its adjacent sunken gardens with BWL’s ugly Central Substation.

They got upbraided because they want more information before deciding if the city’s master plan should be changed to allow for the substation on what is now parkland. After all, it’s not some plot in the middle of nowhere. It’s at Washington Avenue and I496, the portal to REO Town. Which, by the way, is looking spiffy after the $2.1 million streetscaping project and significant private investment in commercial buildings. So, their biggest question is how the substation would affect REO Town.

They want to know basic stuff, too, like how tall will the decorative — but potentially cheesy — wall around the substation be. Answers in the last couple of weeks have range from 12 feet to 20 feet to 25 feet to 30 feet. They want to know more about efforts to place the substation elsewhere and about the feasibility of doing it all underground.

They are joined by preservationists concerned about the Scott House. It’s easy to look at it from the outside and say, “who cares?” But that’s because it’s been sided over. Historic photos reveal a charming Tudor exterior. And a Monday tour of the inside revealed much of the once well-appointed rooms has not been lost.

Pro-substationers say it would take $1 million to restore the house. But leaders of Preservation Lansing, which is battling to save it, say it would be much, much less. Dale Schrader, the organization’s vice president, has restored worse, he says. Schrader took an old filling station in Old Town from eyesore to eye candy. And next door is a 3,400-square-foot house that he says was in worse shape than the Scott House. Restoration cost: under $100,000. He estimates he could do the same to the Scott House for as little as a quarter of a million, Or less than double what our Mayor for Life just gave former City Attorney Janene McIntyre to not do her job for the rest of the year.

Down the hill from the Scott House are the sunken gardens, with its 115-year-old stone imported from Italy. BWL’s plan is to move the garden, destroying only some of the stone, but you won’t be able to tell the difference between what’s lost and the new stone. Right. And while we’re at it, let’s replace the “Mona Lisa” with a copy.

Here’s the thing: Lots of folks won’t know the difference — because our art and preservation ethic in Lansing is so damn weak. Yes, we’ve had some successes, not the least of which is the BWL’s restoration of the old train station in REO Town. But rare successes.

Why is that? In part because we lack political leadership that values aesthetics, starting at the top. Our Mayor for Life once told me he didn’t have time for art.

Which explains his ignorance that the Arts Council of Greater Lansing was even located in his city and his kneejerk opposition a few years back to a proposal to place a tiny tax on developers that would go for public art — you know, that stuff you see in worldclass cities, or even East Lansing, which has such a plan. It’s not a big leap to believe he has the same attitude toward preservation. It’s not directly about jobs, he argues. Remember the pole barn controversy in the Walnut Neighborhood? All our Mayor for Life could see was the jobs that Niowave was creating, not the ugliness that lowers our standard of living.

What our Mayor for Life discovered the other day, when the Parks Board voted unanimously to give the Scott House a 30-day reprieve, was that times are a’changin’. We can see it in the effort to preserve Eastern High School’s main building. Community leaders are being proactive, for a change, instead of wringing their hands after the fact. They’ve gotten a commitment from Sparrow to work with the community in determining the building’s fate. Too bad they didn’t confront the Lansing School Board about placing real conditions on the building’s sale. And too bad that the board and administration care so little about preservation that it didn’t do so itself.

But now is now. This little group Preservation Lansing, under the feistier new leadership of folks like Dale Schrader and its president, Joe Vitale, are waking up Lansing to the need to save what we have left. They need your support. Join up by contacting the organization via its Facebook page.

To paraphrase Bernie, it’s going to take a Preservation Revolution.