Getting to know local government Historic preservation group reflects on 2017, sets 2018 goals

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Historic preservation commission member Gary Goyette rescues wainscotting prior to demolition of a historic property located at the intersection of Schiller and First Street. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

Guttenberg’s historic preservation commission advocates for some 200 historic properties within the city limits, working to educate owners of those properties and completing its own projects to improve upon the appearance and preservation of the city.

Working with just a $1,000 annual budget, the group meets five times a year. Current members, who serve three-year terms, are Lee Johnston, Chris Schoen, Janette Hansel, Gary Goyette and Charles Finch, with council representative Virginia Sauegling. There is a vacancy on the board, and those interested in appointment should contact Mayor Bill Frommelt. 

This small group makes a big impact in Guttenberg. Last year, the commission assisted the City of Guttenberg in obtaining a historical resource development program grant to restore the municipal building, which is one of many properties in Guttenberg listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Workers used historically appropriate materials to improve thermal efficiency of windows, repair exterior masonry and interior plaster walls, refurbish the auditorium floor and restore terrazzo flooring, and much more. Repairs continue this year.

“The most common misconception of being on the NRHP is that the listing means 'I cannot make changes to the exterior of my property without obtaining permission from the federal or state government or the Guttenberg Historic Preservation Commission.' National Register Listing is an honorary listing and does not attach any restrictions or architectural controls on what a property owner can do with their listed building,” explained Goyette. “Being listed does have the benefit of possibly being eligible for state or federal tax credits.”

Commission Chair Lee Johnston worked with city staff, Chamber Director Mandy Ludovissy, and Umbrella Arts to design new streetscapes for nodes along River Park Drive in downtown Guttenberg. A grant has been submitted to pay for the proposed project, which calls for locally sourced limestone to build 11 planters this summer. 

The commission is called upon to advise property owners of possible tax deductions for rehabilitation on historic structures and about historically-appropriate restoration, such as in the rehabilitation of Andy Reimer’s building at 306 S. 1st Street. Gary Goyette assisted with rehabilitation and repainting of original window sills, lintels and casings. In the coming months, Reimer plans to construct a replication of the late 19th century second floor porch, which cantilevers over the main entrance.  

Also in 2017, the commission took charge of a familiar stone monument and niche in Guttenberg’s city park. The monument tells the interesting story of a local man who was helped by Native Americans in the area. 

  “Some residents wanted the ‘eyesore’ removed, and others wanted it restored,” noted Johnston. This spring, the group will begin removing the stone planter, which is not original to the structure, and will work to restore the niche and embedded artifacts, and create landscaping as described in a 1937 issue of The Guttenberg Press. The commission has purchased a statuette for the niche, which closely matches its 1937 description.  The finished project will include a descriptive plaque.

While the historic preservation commission accomplished much in 2017 and plans to keep improving the area in the coming year, obstacles do arise. “The challenge is and will probably always be trying to save over 200 historic properties in a town of only 1,900 people,” Johnston explained. “Since the town is landlocked there are always individuals who want to build new and are ready tear down the old places. And since restoration is usually more expensive than new construction it is a difficult position to defend. Fortunately, we have residents who are willing to take up the challenge.”


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