The Central Business Improvement District Commission on Thursday voted to seek the opinion of a structural engineer before deciding whether to authorize the demolition of a historic downtown building.
Jimmy Meadows, co-owner of the Friedman-Mincer building, a three-story, tiled brick structure at 1100 Garrison Ave., said at a CBID meeting Thursday a “dangerous situation” has developed at the building since the partial collapse of its roof early this week.
Meadows purchased the building in 2009 and owns it with his son, Joseph Meadows, and partners with RUM Inc. He proposed renovating the structure and in April 2011 appeared before the CBID with plans to build 14 apartments and a ground-floor retail space in the 24,000-square-foot structure. He said Thursday the project is not feasible.
“I’d give anything to be able to save it,” Meadows told commissioners. But he said the damage to the building has left it in a condition where he said, “I will not sink anymore money into it.”
Meadows is vice president of Southwest Resources Group Inc. The company was involved in an earlier downtown rehabilitation at 823 Garrison Ave., the former location of Davis Furniture. Apartments were built upstairs and a piano bar, Mojo’s Ivory House, occupied about 3,500 square feet of the ground floor.
Jayne Hughes, downtown development coordinator, said the Friedman-Mincer building, which is considered “a downtown icon,” lies within the improvement district, as well as the West Garrison Avenue Historic District. She said district design standards spell out procedures for demolition of historic buildings and require the commission to rule on requests for demolition.
The standards generally prohibit demolition except in situations where “public safety and welfare” are an issue, as determined by building or code inspectors and reports “commissioned by and acceptable to the Fort Smith Planning Department from a structural engineer or architect.”
Other conditions listed include allowance for removal when economic hardship has been demonstrated, where rehabilitation is undesirable because of structural instability and deterioration, where the building has lost its original architectural integrity and where no other alternative, including relocation of the building, is feasible.
Wally Bailey, city planning director, said Thursday he is scheduling an engineer to inspect the building.
Bailey said observation of the building indicates it has unsupported masonry walls, and given the condition of the building, “it would immediately be declared unsafe it it were anywhere else in town.”
While Meadows said he was considering demolition, Commission Chairman Richard Griffin suggested if the structure is not deemed hazardous, it could perhaps be sold to someone interested in its preservation and rehabilitation.
Griffin said the commission could not make a decision on the fate of the structure until it is examined. “We need to determine if it is a menace to public safety,” he said, adding that the commission could reconvene once more information is available.
The distinctive, white-glazed brick building dates to 1911, and sits on a triangle of land bounded by Garrison Avenue, Towson Avenue and North 11th Street.
In the early days of Fort Smith, its location came to be known as Texas Corner. In his book, “Hidden History of Fort Smith,” author Ben Boulden said the name was linked to the designation of what is now Towson Avenue as Texas Road because travelers used it when heading out for that state.
Boulden cites sources which described the area as “rough” and the area populated by “undesirable families.”
A history compiled by the Belle Grove Neighborhood Association said the building’s namesake, Lewis Friedman, was a Hungarian immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1888, at age 15. He operated a liquor and beer distributorship in the 400 block of Garrison Avenue until it was closed by Prohibition, according to the history. Friedman then began a wholesale tobacco business. City directories from 1919 and 1921 identify Friedman as a seller of cigars, tobacco and candy at 20 S. Sixth St.
He later served as Fort Smith postmaster from around 1930 until his death in 1944.
(copied and printed with permission from Times Record writer Rusty Garrett)