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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy Jerry Vandeveer says the only thing worth saving at the Bowser Pump building is the cast iron portico.

Thursday, March 30, 2017 1:00 am

Bowser Pump building is 'not a gold mine'

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

The last time I was in the old Bowser building on Creighton Avenue was a few years ago when it was home to the Fort Wayne Police Department.

It wasn't a pleasant place. Oh, it had some big rooms, but it was an aging, creaking, creepy place with old wood floors and broad staircases the public had to use to get to offices upstairs.

I hadn't thought much about the place until last month when I encountered some protesters on Clinton Street, complaining that the southeast side doesn't get any investment from the city and begging that the place be renovated as a home to nonprofits and for public use.

In the last couple of weeks, of course, the truth about the building has come out.

The place is creaky and creepy, and it's not worth saving, developers have said, so it appears the building is coming down, and soon.

If you really want to know about the building, though, you've got to talk to Jerry Vandeveer, the owner of The Wood Shack Architectural Antiques. He goes through old buildings and saves everything from doors and sinks to spiral staircases and fireplace mantles.

Vandeveer is working with Martin Enterprises, and his job was to go through the building and find what was worth saving.

Just approaching the front door showed promise. Right there was a big cast iron portico with a semi-circular roof that offered a bit of shelter for visitors walking up the steep steps to the building.

Vandeveer says the classic, century-old piece is historic, and he said Martin told him it's worth $15,000. It can be remounted somewhere else in Fort Wayne, Vandeveer said.

And then he went inside the building, and what did he find?

What a letdown, Vande­veer said. It was like Al Capone's vault revisited, he said.

“Everyone was anticipating this great stuff,” Vandeveer said. But what furniture was there was particleboard stuff. There was old baseboard that someone doing a restoration might want, but it was all cut into 4-foot-long pieces when it was installed. No one wants that.

There are glass partitions, but they go all the way to the ceiling, 13 feet high. “What do you do with them?” Vande­veer asked. “They're not practical.”

The bathrooms are intact, but the stalls are all marble and they're five feet wide. It would take two men and a bulldozer to remove them, Vandeveer said.

The building has several safes, but they are built in. Technically, the only thing salvageable is the safe doors, and they're heavy and what do you do with them?

The basement is empty, “not one old piece of anything” except for about 2 feet of water, Vandeveer said. And the attic is clean as a whistle, he said.

There are some mementos to salvage, such as fire hose valves and the cast metal floor numbers from the elevators.

But there's one good thing about all that, Vandeveer said. “All the stuff we thought might be here that might end up in the trash, it's not here. It's not a gold mine, but nothing's going to get trashed for no reason.”

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.