Johnson’s smokestack: Owner’s alley request seen as chance to “leverage” historic tribute

The Johnson’s Creamery smokestack will soon be back in the civic spotlight—for two reasons.

First, at its meeting this Tuesday,  Bloomington’s three-member board of public works will be asked to affirm an order from the city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department,  which requires AT&T to remove its communications equipment from the top of the smokestack by midnight on May 31.

The removal of AT&T’s equipment will help set the stage for the owner’s partial demolition of the smokestack—from 140 feet down to 60 feet. The building, with its smokestack, is owned by Peerless Development.

The partial demolition was ordered by HAND because an engineering study determined the smokestack is unsafe.

Second, Peerless Development will be asking the city council to vacate an east-west alley that cuts across the parcel.

The alley vacation is needed in order for Peerless to move ahead with a development on the northern part of the parcel. The housing development is supposed to include 60 apartments with a total of 74 bedrooms, right next to the B-Line Trail. Bloomington’s plan commission approved the site plan for the new development in October 2021.

The request for an alley vacation will likely land on the city council’s May 18 agenda as a first reading, and possibly get final action at the council’s regular meeting on June 1.

Vacating a public-right-of-way means that the city is ceding to a private entity the public’s claim to the land.

In connection with the requested alley vacation, Bloomington’s city council could be looking to extract a concession from Peerless to construct some kind of creative artwork to commemorate the lost height of the smokestack. That’s based on the discussion at the city council’s work session held last Friday.

The idea of a commemorative artwork is not new. Continue reading “Johnson’s smokestack: Owner’s alley request seen as chance to “leverage” historic tribute”

Johnson’s Creamery building, 60 feet of smokestack get historic protection from Bloomington city council

The 140-foot Johnson’s Creamery smokestack will get demolished down to just 60 feet sometime in the next few weeks.

But it won’t get chopped down any shorter than that, because Bloomington’s city council has now enacted a historic district for the building, including its smokestack.

The Johnson’s Creamery is located on 7th Street just west of the B-Line Trail. The trail is temporarily closed where it runs past the smokestack out of a concern for public safety—because the smokestack is leaning and has been determined to be unsafe.

The council’s action came on a 9–0 vote at its regular meeting on Wednesday.

At its meeting last week. Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC) went ahead and issued a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition of the smokestack down to 60 feet. The HPC’s action anticipated the council would establish a historic district for the building.

If the council had not enacted a historic district that included the smokestack, it could have been completely demolished. Continue reading “Johnson’s Creamery building, 60 feet of smokestack get historic protection from Bloomington city council”

HPC says Johnson’s smokestack OK to be chopped to 60 feet, Bloomington city council next to weigh in

On Thursday, Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC) voted to approve a certificate of appropriateness (COA) for the demolition of the Johnson’s Creamery smokestack down to 60 feet.

No conditions are attached to the COA. The commission weighed the idea of requiring the owner to propose a way to commemorate the history of the building through an artwork. But in the end that was not a part of the COA.

Thursday’s vote put back on the books the action taken by HPC last week, but which it rescinded at the same meeting, amid confusion about the substance of the vote.

The city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department has issued an order to the owner, Peerless Development, to demolish the smokestack down to 60 feet, based on a report recently completed by Arsee Engineers.

The engineering report concluded that the structure cannot be restored at its full height and still meet modern building codes. Any masonry smokestack would be susceptible to wind and seismic loads that would preclude restoration at that height, the report said.

Thursday’s action is meant to preserve as much of the 140-foot smokestack as possible. Continue reading “HPC says Johnson’s smokestack OK to be chopped to 60 feet, Bloomington city council next to weigh in”

Future of Johnson’s Creamery smokestack height to be decided by historic preservation commission, Bloomington city council

As soon as this Thursday (March 24), the future of the iconic Johnson’s Creamery smokestack, just across the B-Line Trail west of city hall, could be settled.

That’s when Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC) is scheduled to meet and act on a request from the owner of the Johnson’s Creamery building to reduce the height of the smokestack from 140 to 60 feet, and to stabilize the remaining, shorter smokestack.

The leaning and deteriorating smokestack is the subject of an unsafe building order issued by the city of Bloomington in late December 2021. The city’s housing and neighborhood development department (HAND) ordered the smokestack repaired within 60 days.

[Added at 9:35 a.m. on March 23: A current order that was issued by HAND on March 11 says the owner has to demolish the smokestack down to a height of 60 feet.]

But on Thursday, the HPCs granting of a certificate of appropriateness for partial demolition is not guaranteed. And it would require some coordination with potential city council action on Wednesday.

Before the request for a “certificate of appropriateness” can be granted by the HPC, Bloomington’s city council would need to establish the legal framework for the issuance of such a certificate. That framework would come in the form of a one-building local historic district.

That’s why an ordinance to establish the Johnson’s Creamery Historic District is on the city council’s Wednesday (March 23) agenda. Ordinarily, the enactment of any ordinance requires two separate readings, not on the same day or the same meeting. But if there is unanimous consent among councilmembers, an ordinance can be enacted at the same meeting when it is introduced. Continue reading “Future of Johnson’s Creamery smokestack height to be decided by historic preservation commission, Bloomington city council”

Bloomington violated state, local law on historic preservation commission appointments

In under two and a half minutes at its Feb. 16 meeting, Bloomington’s city council approved eight appointments to the city’s historic preservation commission (HPC).

Abstaining on the vote were Dave Rollo and Ron Smith, who both said that they’d received such late notice of the proposed appointments that they could not vote.

Rollo put it like this: “I haven’t had adequate time to review these applicants.”

Not getting a mention at the council’s meeting was the fact that seven of the people who were voted on that night had already been serving on the commission, one of them for more than two years—without the approval of the city council.

That’s a violation of state statute and local code.

The HPC has the power to submit maps describing the boundaries of a proposed historic district or conservation district for city council approval. The HPC also has the power to issue certificates of appropriateness for work done on buildings in historic districts.
Continue reading “Bloomington violated state, local law on historic preservation commission appointments”

Sides settle in historic house demolition lawsuit, Bloomington doesn’t levy $83.5K fine

A settlement agreement approved by the court last week means that the owner of a house at 523 West 7th St. across from Fairview Elementary School will not be fined $83,500 for demolishing it about two years ago without the proper permit.

It was Monroe County circuit court judge Kara Krothe who signed off on the settlement, by ordering the case dismissed, based an a joint motion from the two sides—the owners and the city of Bloomington.

In fall 2019, the house was under consideration by Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC) for designation as historic.

It was on Aug. 8, 2019 when the HPC recommended that the city council consider designating the house as historic. But the commission’s resolution was missing a crucial element: It did not explicitly say that the house was being put under interim protection.

Before it was put on the city council’s agenda for action, towards the end of September 2019, owners David Holdman and Judie Baker had the house demolished. They did not have the required certificate of zoning compliance. Continue reading “Sides settle in historic house demolition lawsuit, Bloomington doesn’t levy $83.5K fine”

Analysis: Possible historic designation of building a chance to reckon with Bloomington’s racism

On the Bloomington city council’s Wednesday agenda for a first reading is an ordinance that would establish a new single-property historic district for the building at 424 1/2 S. Walnut Street.

Consideration of the ordinance could be a chance for the city council and the community to review an episode from Bloomington’s restaurant industry in 1950, which was described this way in a World-Telephone article: “Downtown Bloomington restaurants, closed this week in protest of a campaign to force them to serve Negroes, are to be reopened for business beginning on Thursday of this week, serving customers of all colors.”

The building at 424 1/2 S. Walnut is probably best known for the most recent business that was housed there, which was The Player’s Pub.

Part of the argument for the property’s historic designation is the building’s connection to Henry Boxman, who operated the place as Boxman’s Restaurant” for nearly three decades, from 1929 to 1958.

One of the possible criteria that can qualify a building for historic designation is its association “with a person who played a significant role in local, state, or national history.”

Boxman is described in the report prepared by Conor Herterich, the city’s historic preservation program manager, as “one of Bloomington’s greatest restaurateurs,” who helped found the Indiana Restaurant Association and re-established the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, among other achievements.

Not a part of the report prepared by Herterich is an analysis of where, if anywhere, Boxman’s Restaurant might have fit into the segregationist history of Bloomington’s downtown restaurant scene of the 1950s.

Continue reading “Analysis: Possible historic designation of building a chance to reckon with Bloomington’s racism”

Former Player’s Pub building: Veiled “sensitive” info could form backdrop to city council’s consideration for historic designation

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. Continue reading “Former Player’s Pub building: Veiled “sensitive” info could form backdrop to city council’s consideration for historic designation”

Commission staves off demolition of former Boxman’s Restaurant, aka Player’s Pub building

Getting a reprieve from demolition on Thursday night was the building on the 400 block of South Walnut Street in Bloomington, just north of Seminary Park, which most recently was home to The Player’s Pub.

A vote by the city’s historic preservation commission (HPC) to end the 90-day period of demolition delay, and to allow owner Josh Alley to tear down the structure, failed on a 3–5 vote.

On a nearly mirror image vote—5–2 with one abstention—the HPC voted to start the formal process for a review of the property, with an eye towards putting it in front of Bloomington’s city council for local historic designation.

The building is not in a local historic district or local conservation district that is under the jurisdiction of the HPC. But the request to demolish the building had to go in front of the HPC because it is listed as “contributing” in the Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory as well as the local inventory.

When the HPC hands off the question to Bloomington’s city council, the HPC can also put the property under interim protection, which would prohibit the owner from demolishing the building in the meantime. The interim protection can remain in effect until the city council approves the proposed historic district boundary map, by adopting it in an ordinance, or rejects the map.

Under local code [BMC 8.08.010(d)] the next steps for the HPC include: preparing a map setting forth the new historic district’s boundaries and building classifications; holding a public hearing on the question; notifying adjacent property owners about the public hearing; deciding to submit the map to the city council for consideration; and preparing a report for the city council detailing which of the specific criteria justify historic designation. Continue reading “Commission staves off demolition of former Boxman’s Restaurant, aka Player’s Pub building”