At its Thursday night meeting, Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC) took two votes that put the former Player’s Pub building on a possible path to permanent historic protection.
The specter of some not-yet-confirmed “sensitive” information that could “sully some reputations” was raised by one commissioner, but that did not convince his colleagues to put off their vote.
They’re working under a deadline that is imposed by the demolition delay procedure that was triggered when the owners sought to demolish the building. It’s listed as “contributing” in the Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory as well as the local inventory.
The 90-day demolition delay window expires on Oct. 30. A delay on Thursday night would have meant calling a special meeting between now and next Friday, if commissioners had delayed and still wanted to pursue the possibility of historic designation.
In one of its resolutions, the HPC put the building on South Walnut Street under interim protection. In the other resolution, the HPC forwarded its recommendation to the city council to give the property historic designation.
Action by the commissioners on Thursday came after a decision they made a couple of weeks ago, which was not to release the building for demolition and instead to start the process that could lead to historic designation.
Commissioner Jeff Goldin, who voted two weeks ago for demolition, spoke up when the president of the commission, John Saunders, announced the item on the agenda.
“Before we move into the first item of new business, I’d like to say that I got some information today of a very sensitive nature that could have a substantial effect on this historic designation,” Goldin said.
Goldin continued, “I’m hoping that you guys will trust me. And I’d like to table this until the next meeting. I was hoping I would get some more substantial support for this information.” Goldin added, “I don’t want to reveal it because it is very sensitive.”
Goldin made a pitch for delay, but in light of the looming Oct. 30 demolition delay deadline, the majority of commissioners weren’t inclined to postpone the matter until their next scheduled meeting, which falls on Nov. 12.
The city’s historic preservation program manager, Conor Herterich, responded to Goldin by saying, that if the HPC voted to forward the matter to the city council, “Perhaps that [sensitive] information would be unfolded a little more by the time council gets to it, and then council can take that into their consideration on whether or not they’re going to designate it.”
Goldin’s concern remained: “And everybody will know.” Herterich replied, “I don’t see how they won’t know.”
Saunders said that in order to act on Goldin’s information it would need to be “more solid, something actually in writing.” Goldin agreed, saying that right now it was just “hearsay,” which is why he was not revealing the information at the meeting.
Goldin was one of two commissioners who voted against historic designation on Thursday. The other was Sam DeSollar.
In addition to whatever issues Goldin’s information turns out to raise, Bloomington’s city council will have three basic eligibility criteria to consider when it weighs the question of designating the property as historic.
Herterich’s report recommends the property for historic designation on three separate grounds.
One criterion is that the building be associated with a person who played a significant role in local history. In the case of the former Player’s Pub building, the person is Henry Boxman, according to Herterich. Boxman is described in the HPC meeting information packet as having operated a successful and highly popular restaurant business out of the building for almost four decades, with a connection to Colonel Harlan Sanders, the storied purveyor of fried chicken across the globe.
The other two eligibility criteria depend on the architecture, not a person. One criterion is that the building be the work of a builder whose individual work has significantly influenced the development of community. In the case of the former Player’s Pub building, it is the association to the Mitchell brothers, Stanley and Ira, according to Herterich’s report.
The brothers built a handful of brick commercial block buildings along South Walnut in the 1920s. The other architectural criterion exemplifies the built environment in an era of history characterized by a distinctive architectural style.
Questioning the Mitchell connection were owners of the building, business partners Josh Alley and Craig Allen, who attended Thursday’s meeting, which was conducted by video conference on the Zoom platform.
The “M” that’s bricked into the facade is cited as evidence that it’s a building that was constructed by the Mitchell brothers.
Alley told commissioners that he’d obtained an old deed that same day. “The original owner wasn’t the Mitchell family at all. It was a fellow named Fred W. Rumple. And he was the original owner of the building,” Alley said.
Alley continued, “[Rumple is] the one that had the building constructed. And then he sold it to an Ira Mitchell in 1929.”
Alley concluded, “I think it is further evidence that the Mitchells weren’t the original constructors of the building.”
According to Alley, the deed shows that the Mitchells owned the building for six years. Then they either sold it or it got foreclosed on—it went to a bank. Alley said he’d send a copy of the deed to Herterich.
Herterich responded by saying he’d located deeds that show the lot was purchased by Stanley Mitchell in 1922. In 1924 Ira Mitchell bought one half of the lot and later bought the other half lot, Herterich said.
Heterich offered to get together with Alley and Allen to compare deeds.