Is Battle Creek’s Iconic Binder Building Doomed?
Last September 6th, the building sometimes called Battle Creek’s version of New York’s flat-Iron structure finally showed signs of age and decades of dis-use. The top two floors of the 119 year old triangular building collapsed, and part of a wall bulged out, revealing a gaping hole. The city cordoned off the area and labeled it a dangerous building. Since that time, building owner Bryant DeBolt says he has been unable to get structural engineers to give him a report on options and costs to save it. The city’s patience has just about run out.
The 80 year old DeBolt, a lifetime Battle Creek resident, who says he was “hatched” at Leila Hospital, says a structural engineer hired by the city took a short 20-minute peek inside the building. Ross Smith, of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. of South Haven, concluded that the cost to stabilize the historic sandstone tower and put it back into service would cost $4 million dollars…..give or take a million. He concluded it would cost up to $850,000 to demolish the tower and stabilize the adjacent middle building.
The City of Battle Creek held a show cause hearing before the Housing Board of Appeals on November 20th, setting an ultimatum: Fix it, or we’ll move to knock it down. DeBolt was given 20 days. He could appeal to Calhoun County Circuit Court.
Meanwhile, Battle Creek’s Historic District Commission is set to take up the issue at a meeting this Monday, December 9th at 4pm in Room 301 of City Hall. If they sign off on the city’s demolition order, the Binder Building could be gone before the end of the month.
Even local historians who champion the preservation of buildings like the Binder admit there might not be much to be done. Even if costs to fix the building are a fraction of the figure provided to the city, there’s a question of where that money would come from. DeBolt says “I’m 80 years old and do not have the funds to restore the sandstone tower or pay for demolition.” But DeBolt says the building is not a danger to the community in its current state, and he needs more time to have it properly evaluated. He says that claim by Battle Creek’s Chief Building official Richard Bolek is overstated. DeBolt is asking for at least another 90 days to get another structural engineer to weigh in, and says he realistically needs another year. He says he needs time to see if funds can be raised, grants procured and to give him a chance to see if the items inside the building can be re-located. And that brings us to another big concern:
Even if the tower gets the death sentence, DeBolt has spent a lifetime collecting historic Battle Creek artifacts, and storing them there. Originally, he held them at his antique store inside another historic building, Pump Arnold’s Place at 14 East State Street. He was ordered to vacate that building when the city used imminent domain to pave the way for the new W.K. Kellogg Foundation building.
DeBolt then acquired the Binder building in 1987 and moved his artifacts there, including the bar from the “Gaslight”, which was also demolished in the Kellogg Foundation project. Now, by order of the city, DeBolt can’t even get inside his building to rescue and relocate those artifacts.
Here are a few items that are stuck in the first level of the building:
- A safe from the Security National Bank Building
- A teller cage from the Security National Bank Building
- A key safe from Grand Trunk Railroad
- An egg-shaped safe from the Bank of Scotts that was designed to be burglar proof.
- The stone clock that was on one of the banks on Michigan Avenue.
- The bar, tables, and light fixtures from the Gaslight Restaurant.
DeBolt says the collapse was not a result of neglect on his part. He says there was a roof issue, due to wind damage, but that he had applied a temporary patch. DeBolt says the two sandstone walls are two-feet thick, and solid. He says the concrete floors are still solid, and not affected by water. He says the problem was the third (north-facing) wall, which was lath board covered with concrete to comply with fire-proofing code used at the turn of the last century. “That type of wall just wasn’t designed to hold up after 120 years.”
Even though things may not look good for the building, there’s still hope that the community may find a way to either save it, or move the historical items out of it. It seems the only way that could happen is if the Historic District Commission gives it a stay of execution for now. They’ll meet Monday in an open meeting.
- Historic District Commission Meeting
- Monday, December 9th, 4pm
- Battle Creek City Hall, Room 301
Here are the current members of the Battle Creek Historic District Commission:
- Jim Hopkins (Chairperson)
- Kim Tuck
- Cody Newman
- Ross Simpson
- Mike Troutman
- Charlie Fulbright
- John Paul Wilson
- Kaytee Faris (City Commission Liaison)