It’s been shrouded by scaffolds and black sheeting for months, but when the curtain rises on the restored exterior of the Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History later this year, it will reveal a building that looks much like it did the day its final brick was laid in 1884.
The 12,000-square-foot building at 415 Main St. in downtown Lewiston began its long life as the Vollmer Great Bargain Store. Many older local residents know it best as a bank, however. It served as the First National Bank of Lewiston from 1904 to 1946, then the First Security Bank until 1989.
The college acquired the building via donation in 1991 for its current use as a community center for arts and culture. A fire that closed the center for a year in 2009 and 2010 triggered a partial interior renovation, but the aging exterior was also due for some attention.
“When we were doing some repairs to the roof in 2012 or 2013, we noticed there were loose bricks around the edges,” center Director Debi Fitzgerald said of the potential hazards created by the deteriorating masonry. “The brick has been patched several times over the course of 100 years, and a lot of patching had been done with cement instead of mortar.”
Members of the Idaho Heritage Trust were visiting the center around that time for another project, and consulting architect Fred Walters mentioned there was grant money available for an engineering study. And if that study could be completed, it would open the door for money from the state Permanent Building Fund to complete an exterior renovation.
The state eventually appropriated $679,000 for the project, and Moscow architect Chick Mabbutt of Associated Architects did the designs, according to LCSC Physical Plant Director Tom Garrison. The college hired Talisman Construction Services of Spokane to do the work, which got underway in early April.
Fitzgerald said construction hasn’t been too disruptive since the building has been closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic. And the contractor has done a good job mitigating the disruptions that couldn’t be avoided, she added, like making sure dust is contained to active work areas so it won’t spread throughout the building.
“They’re very careful, and they’re clean,” she said.
In addition to raking out and repointing every single mortar joint on the facade, the project includes the replacement of the single-pane windows on the second floor with energy-efficient models and improvements to some of the larger first-floor windows. Updated windows are especially important to help protect the priceless artifacts contained in the center’s permanent second-floor exhibit on Lewiston’s historic Chinese Beuk Aie Temple, Fitzgerald said.
The new windows feature wood frames on the inside so they won’t detract from the historic appearance of the building. They are clad in metal on the exterior for durability, but will be painted for historical accuracy.
One disappointing part of the project was the removal of the large mural on the north wall that faces D Street, Fitzgerald added.
“We had a little backlash when people saw it being power washed off, but the historic architects and engineers told us that painting on brick is not good for the long-term health of the building,” she said, noting the mural won’t be replaced for that reason.
The mural was a popular backdrop for community members to take photos, so the center may ask people to submit their favorite photographs so staff can create a permanent display to add to an exhibit on the building’s history, Fitzgerald said.
The work was initially expected to take about four months, but some unexpected repairs on the eastern wall pushed that back to the end of August or early September. Mortar replacement on the south side is nearly done, and workers are moving to the north side.
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