Washington gets a face liftAfter more than a decade, people are moving back into the Washington Building this week.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
After more than a decade, people are moving back into the Washington Building this week.
Apartments – vacant since 1998 – garnered a new lease on life after a $4.6 million historic renovation of the building that once housed Social Security offices.
The building now provides 23 one-of-a-kind apartments for people ages 55 and older in addition to a lobby, community space, a hair salon and exercise room.
It’ll be like coming home to a fine hotel, said Terri Miles, Superior Housing Authority property manager for the New York and Washington buildings in downtown.
MetroPlains of St. Paul owns both buildings.
Reconstruction of the Washington Building, 1521 Tower Ave., started in December. Final touches this week complete the project.
The renovation project included rehabilitating and recreating apartments and expanding a portion of the building to accommodate an interior hall that never existed and larger living spaces. Tuck-pointing sealed the brick exterior from the weather. A new facade on the front recreates the arches that were included in the original 1891 construction. The building has new windows and insulation throughout.
“Everything in the building is new,” said Vern Hanson Jr., of MetroPlains. Electrical systems and wiring, and plumbing were replaced. New mechanical systems, an elevator, fire protective sprinklers and a pass-card security system to control access were installed.
A second-story courtyard offers a view of the harbor from downtown.
The renovation incorporates original woodwork where possible and replicated pieces where needed to retain historic texture.
“One of the things that we tried to do under the historical guideposts was to bring it back to that kind of original character,” Hanson said. “And we used pieces and concepts that were appropriate for the time.”
The building also features some original concepts, like creating sliding doors from original doors that swung open to separate living and bedroom space.
Hanson credits Dave Cecil Builders, the project contractor, with having the imagination to create some of the new features with an eye toward the building’s historic origins.
“It’s the unique features that make for a special space,” Hanson said.
All the apartment units are in the same place where the old units used to be, he said.
All of the apartments are different. Each has an original floor plan. Some have fireplaces and mantels – although the fireplaces no longer work – and others feature built in hutches.
Some fireplaces and hutches were discovered behind walls during the renovation, said Mike Abernathie, project architect. However, he said the project didn’t have many surprises that needed adjustment in spite of finding nearly 14-foot high arches hidden above 8-foot high dropped ceilings on the first floor.
The arches are incorporated into design features in some of the first floor apartments and public spaces.
One unit features a historic buffet beneath an arch, another a pocket door to close off the kitchen from living space, and yet another uses double swing doors to cordon off space.
Each tenant has space in the building to store seldom-used items such as holiday decorations outside of their apartments.
Amenities that are the same in every unit include a furnace and temperature controls for heating and cooling. Each has full bath and kitchen facilities and a full complement of major appliances – stove, microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher, garbage disposal, and washer and dryer.
Miles said the washer and dryer in the apartment is one of the features people have really liked as they viewed apartments in the building.
“They don’t have to be hauling their laundry down the hall and then waiting,” she said.
However, the building’s location, within a block of Super One, local merchants, banks and other businesses, the public library and senior center – accessible without stepping outside – are also appealing amenities, she said.
A door between the Washington Building and Superior-Douglas County Senior Center allows residents to access the center and users of the center can access services available in the Washington Building without stepping outside.
Funding for the project through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development keeps the apartment rent affordable.
“It brings new life into our downtown,” said Mayor Dave Ross. “It’s meeting the needs of our seniors in downtown … They have access to services without traveling too far.”
He said MetroPlains has invested nearly $10 million in renovation in Superior’s downtown since 2006 when it renovated the vacant New York Building.
Both buildings are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
An open house begins after the 11 a.m. ribbon-cutting event Oct. 21 at the Washington Building.
However, Miles said she doesn’t expect it to take long for the building to fill up.
For more information, call her at (715) 392-6699.