Editorial: In aftermath of downtown fire, an ode to the old
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When the wrecking ball, or whatever passes for that these days, attacks the Busse Building in downtown Mount Prospect any minute now, an important piece of our suburban past will be relegated to the landfill.
The fire that tore through the building on Sunday gave the owners no choice but to condemn at least part of the structure, built in 1926 on Main Street. As of this writing, it’s undetermined whether any of the rest can be saved.
And that’s a shame.
The building, considered an example of the Tudor style, is permanently etched in the ongoing life of Mount Prospect. In recent years, it has been home to a hugely popular bakery, a Japanese restaurant and the Chamber of Commerce; in an earlier incarnation, it housed the post office, Otto H. Landeck Men’s Shop, the National Tea Co. and Meeske Market, for 59 years the place to go for meat and German delicacies.
We have emotional connections to these edifices, partly because in a suburban landscape often populated by the same grocers, the same tire shops, the same fast-food restaurants, the same retailers, they remain stubbornly unique.
There is only one Des Plaines Theater, with its beautiful aqua-green terra cotta on the facade and inside, scrawled signatures of vaudevillians who passed through; only one St. Peter & Paul Church in Naperville, with its iconic bell tower; only one Third Street courthouse in Geneva, designed by Edbrooke & Burnham and decorated with Edward Holslag’s murals.
Old buildings are all about the people who built them, used them and passed through them. Stuff happened there. Important stuff. Fun stuff. Memorable stuff.
Often they possess an air of mystery, because some of those stories are now only shadows.
They mirror the changes in their communities. When the Meeskes could no longer compete with big food chains and Mount Prospect’s German population assimilated, the market went out of business and the Central Continental Bakery moved in.
It’s the cycle of life, only in brick, mortar and terra cotta.
But these old structures, when kept up and viable, mean more to a community than just a connection to the past. Old buildings, especially in suburban downtowns, have great economic advantages.
They are good incubators of small business, since their rents are often more affordable than those at new construction.
Historic buildings help prevent sprawl, by saving money and land.
Their charm can promote further development, especially because an infrastructure is already in place — utilities as well as transportation.
With the Busse Building, a unique piece of history and architecture is lost to Mount Prospect. At least it had a good run.
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