Two Michiana buildings make Indiana Landmarks 10 Most Endangered List

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Indiana Landmarks released its annual "10 Most Endangered List," a list of historic structures on the brink of extinction. Two buildings in the list are housed in Michiana: The Birdsell Mansion in South Bend and Kamm and Schellinger Brewery in Mishawaka.

Each historic structure on the list faces a combination of problems: abandonment. neglect, decay and more.

The two endangered buildings have stood the test of time and now face extinction as the unused spaces continue to decay. Both buildings have seen a variety of uses throughout the decades and still have the potential for a bright future ahead.

Adam Toering, the historic preservation administrator or the City of South Bend, wants to see the historic mansion come back to life.

“This beautiful structure, it’s been relatively unused for the entirety of the time that I’ve been with the historical preservation. We’d love to see it sort of brought back to life," said Toering.

The Birdsell Mansion, in its prime, rivaled the Studebaker’s Tippecanoe Place and the Oliver Mansion. Today, it sits vacant.

Its once decorative windows are now boarded up. It was originally designed in 1898 for J.B. Birdsell, an industrial titan in the area whose father invented an innovative machine for threshing and hulling clover. Birdsell died shortly after its construction in 1906, leaving the estate to his wife which was later sold as a commercial property in 1927.

It found new life as an office for F. Jay Nimtz, a local South Bend attorney active in the Civil Rights Movement. But despite the mansion’s landmark status, declared in 1995, its hardwood paneling, ornate fireplaces and a third-floor ballroom are left to decay.

Toering says the damage is likely due to the lack of upkeep.

"There’s a point when the maintenance issues get put off for too long and the damage is done. We’re not there yet, but it is actively—it is endangered in the fact that it is unused and there are outstanding issues," said Toering.

For years the commercial-use house has remained vacant, piling on code violations. The water damage and incredible size of the house can make repairs daunting. Toering’s job is to look at historic structures and advocate for improvement, but despite attempts for improvement, the building’s absentee owner has yet to make any recent changes.

"Little has happened over the last five years since the roof has been redone and that is concerning to me. There needs to be—historic preservation is an active thing," said Toering.

How can Birdsell Mansion be preserved? Kamm and Shellinger Brewery may have the answer.

Purchased in 1853, by German immigrants, the brewery is one of the few remaining examples of pre-Civil War architecture in the area. It operated as a brewery for nearly a century, producing more than 30,000 barrels per year.

The nearly 180-year-old building has survived many challenges--including prohibition--switching to rootbeer and other non-alcoholic products until it could return to beer.

After the brewery shut its doors in the 1950s, it became home to the 100 Center, a thriving complex of shops, residences, restaurants and businesses that eventually died off once malls became more popular in the 1980s. It’s had various businesses within the walls, but nothing to keep it in use despite its great location along the St. Joseph River.

Kate Voelker, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission for the City of Mishawaka, sees the potential.

“This huge building in the middle of Mishawaka, just aching for somebody to do something with it," said Voelker.

The building stands strong on the outside, but Voelker says its interior is dangerous.

“It’s been a pretty big drain on our code enforcement department. I mean you look around you can see the broken windows, they’re all over. Externally, the brick is in pretty good shape, but the inside needs a lot of work," said Voelker.

In its second year on the top 10 endangered landmark list, there’s hope for the once booming center and successful brewery. An interested developer hopes to turn things around. Details cannot be released yet, but Voelker is incredibly hopeful to see the property fulfill its potential and return to the bustling spot she remembers enjoying years ago.

“We’re very fortunate that there’s somebody that’s willing to make an investment property and a historic property, make it new, make it modern, but keep the historical feel that is so important to the fabric of Mishawaka," said Voelker.

Will the Birdsell Mansion see the same success story? Only time will tell.

Toering hopes an interested developer will invest in the property and with the help of the city--can restore the building and the area’s culture so the unique but endangered building does not become extinct.

"Preservation to me is also a culture. It is a community culture. It is a reflection of what a community values unfortunately our city has a lot of empty lots and parking lots were structures have been torn down,” said Toering. "I think the structure has a long history ahead of it where can we continue to use as either a house, commercial usage, restaurant.”

As historic landmarks, the cities can help with improvements and approve changes, but the power of its use remains in its owners. The two local spots on the list have been abandoned for decades. As each year passes and renovations are ignored, the number and cost of code violations grow, making it costlier to fix than to demolish, something historians don’t want to see happen. Even if you can’t purchase giant fixer uppers, Toering says you can still preserve the culture and history of the city by continually keeping up with maintenance in your own home or property.

“Preservation is an active endeavor. We have to choose to do it. And I hope that, whether you’re taking care of your own home, or taking care of a ten-story commercial building, you see it as an investment in our future, and in our community," said Toering.

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