Owner Keeps Vintage Look for Local Building
by Derek Beigh
Mt. Vernon Register-News
July 2, 2011
Click here to read the story at register-news.com
Harry Clark and Steven Farkenberg polish the vitrolite glass on the face of the former Stumpp building at 10th and Broadway. Kent Renshaw, the owner of the building, plans to have 50 of the 80 vitrolite pieces on the building replaced.
MT. VERNON — When Kent Renshaw selected Tim Dunn and his crew out of St. Louis to replace and refurbish the vitrolite paneling of the former Stumpp Building downtown, he knew he was getting the best in the business.
Dunn’s company, Vitrolite Specialist, is not just the leading but the only American source and installer of vitrolite, a vintage stained glass featured in many depression-era structures that hasn’t been manufactured in the United States since 1947.
That dearth has allowed Dunn to become the gatekeeper for the substance: His 20-ton supply is the result of years of replacement and rehabilitation jobs at structures nationwide including the Artcraft Theater in Franklin, Ind., Alhambra Theater in Hopkinsville, Ky. and 9th Street Grill in Mt. Vernon since he learned the trade in the 1980s.
Dunn said his business has grown in that time because building owners increasingly prefer vitrolite to modern materials for the sense of nostalgia it evokes.
“There are a lot of people who like the look,” he said. “In the 1930s Libbey Owens Ford, who manufactured vitrolite, held a ‘Modernize Main Street’ contest, and you had to use vitrolite to be eligible; that’s made it an appealing classical storefront. It stands out.”
To Renshaw, using vitrolite to maintain the look of the building at 10th and Broadway as it was constructed is a natural fit for Mt. Vernon’s historic downtown TIF district.
“I wanted to maintain that vintage look,” he said. “A lot of people go in and try to make things look old. So why not just maintain the original?”
The vitrolite servicing — 50 of the about 80 pieces on the building’s five storefronts will be replaced, and the rest will be cleaned and resurfaced — is a small portion of the overall renovation planned for the structure, which will take place over the next several years and be partially TIF-funded. Current construction, including window replacement and patching the leaky roof but not the vitrolite or overhaul of the interior, will be 50% reimbursed by TIF funds.
“Without those funds we wouldn’t be able to do it because it’s so cost-intensive,” Renshaw said. “Cyndy Mitchell and the TIF Board have been wonderful to work with. We’ll probably continue to apply, as more funds become available, to make the building look better and better. It’ll be a lengthy process.”
The work so far is the result of the long history Renshaw has with the property: In 1998 he purchased a small portion of the block and renovated it into the Renshaw & Associates Law Firm, then in September of last year decided to buy the rest and restore it. The first phase, the roof and vitrolite, will be complete around mid-July.
While Renshaw doesn’t know precisely what the building will be eventually used for — he said the upper floors could be apartments and the lower levels small businesses — bringing the structure back to downtown the way it once was is important enough to merit the hard work.
“I’ve always supported the development of downtown and making it viable again,” Renshaw said. “We can’t just let these things disintegrate before our eyes.”