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Old buildings head into future

by Linda Hiller

Labors of love. There’s no other explanation for why they did it. Over the past year or so, three Carson Valley businesses made the decision to take historical buildings and adapt them to the future while restoring their appearance to bygone days.

The catch is each remodel cost more than alternative building solutions like starting from scratch or buying something new. These buildings have something a new structure can’t possibly offer, however – history.

The Minden Wool Warehouse, at the corner of Highway 395 and Buckeye Road is owned by Bently Nevada Corp. When this company, which employs 800 people in Carson Valley alone, experienced growing pains not long ago, Bently planners considered several options for more office space.

“We could have put up a new building for a lot less money,” said Bently construction manager George Goodspeed. “But in the end it didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

Instead, Bently planners decided to remodel and retrofit the historic Minden Wool Warehouse, which was built for $15,000 in 1915, commissioned by H.F. Dangberg, Jr. and designed by prominent architect Frederic J. DeLongchamps. It is currently on the National Register of Historic Places and owned by Bently Nevada Corp. since the 1970s.

The Minden Wool Warehouse was originally used to store wool from the nearby Buckeye Ranch and potatoes from area farmers. The building was also used as office space for the Dangberg Land and Live Stock Co.

Don Bently, founder of Bently Nevada Corp., said he is pleased with the remodeling job done on the old warehouse.

“I really like that old building, and if we had decided to tear it down, we would have had a 15-foot setback,” he said, explaining that a sidewalk easement would be required of new construction on that particular site. As it is, a narrow sidewalk is all that separates the building from Highway 395.

“It was a bit of a homely building before, but now the gables have really dolled it up,” Bently said. “I am really pleased with it.”

In addition to gables, designers added gray metal awnings to the building and restored the original lettering on the brick walls, added more lettering to the east and north sides of the structure.

“While we were working on the building we carefully traced the letters and reapplied them exactly,” Goodspeed said. “It really turned out nice.”

Working as a team with architect Larry Henry and Bill Ramsden of Central Sierra Construction, Goodspeed and Bently brainstormed fitting the needs of the high-tech company inside an old building.

The result is an exterior not far from the original building and an interior that is airy and comfortable for the software engineers and facilities employees who spend their workdays inside.

During the renovation, which cost more than $1 million, a cement roof was replaced for earthquake safety standards.

“They had the cement roof to help control the humidity for the wool,” Bently said, “But it would have made a concrete sandwich in a big earthquake so we took it off and threw it away.”

Goodspeed said the remodeling could have been cheaper had Bently not chosen to retrofit the building for a level 4 earthquake.

“We redid much of the brick and re-engineered the entire building to seismic level 4,” he said. “We were only required to retrofit it to level 3, but Mr. Bently is always concerned about employee safety. This place is so safe that if there is going to be an earthquake, this is where I want to be.”

Like Bently’s other structures, this building is a high-security building. State-of-the-art climate control and security systems coupled with the angular, modern interior architecture belies the building’s 80-year history.

The J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room on Highway 395 and Eddy Street in Gardnerville was moved from the Silver City/Gold Hill area to Genoa in the 1890s. It was moved to its current site in 1895. At some point, the building’s balcony was removed.

When brothers Jean and Pete Lekumberry purchased the bar and restaurant in 1960, there was no balcony.

Pictures of the building with a balcony intrigued family members, according to Marie Lekumberry, Jean’s daughter, who now runs the business with brother J.B.

“We were doing a lot of work on the interior including foundation work and we wanted to do an authentic reproduction of the building, so we did the balcony at the same time,” she said.

The balcony was completed last December and Marie said she and J.B. haven’t closely scrutinized the amount of money they ended up spending.

“It was definitely thousands of dollars, but we’re too scared to actually figure it out,” she said. “It definitely paid off, though, because we are dedicated to downtown and want to be here for the next 50 years. It was worth it.”

The original Farmer’s Bank of Carson Valley was located at the corner of Esmeralda and Fourth Street and opened for business Oct. 20, 1909. The building served as a bank for 10 years. After outgrowing its space, a new bank was build directly across the street to the north, designed by Frederic J. DeLongchamps, and the old bank was converted to the Minden Post Office and operated as such from 1918 to 1964.

In 1996, when new residents John Campbell and Martha Kinder were looking for a place to house their new business, Nevada Gourmet, they considered several places around the Valley, almost settling on one before eventually buying the old bank building, which was up for sale.

It’s character, heart and proximity to downtown and the county complex inspired the pair. Opening in November 1996, Nevada Gourmet seems made for the site.

“We really feel this building has made this business,” Campbell said. “We could have gone someplace else for less money, but we wouldn’t have had this atmosphere. People tell us it reminds them of coffee shops in San Francisco.”

“We love old things,” Kinder added. “We’d like this to be ‘Old Town’ instead of downtown.”

Kinder said that when she and Campbell began to gut the inside of the building to make it appropriate for their business, they found a few surprises.

“We found that the original tin ceiling, still painted post office green, was above a false lower ceiling,” she said. “We decided to use the vault for a chocolate vault.”

Campbell said the renovations to the building have included new floors and wall work, but very little to the outside.

“We haven’t modified the front at all,” he said. “We were going to install the original copper doors from the other bank, but for fire safety reasons we couldn’t do it.”

With a commitment to community and to preserving the colorful history of the Carson Valley, each of these three remodels has cost more than alternative solutions which could have resulted in the loss of landmarks that are irreplaceable.

One of the largest land and business owners in the Valley, Don Bently is setting a specific example.

“Mr. Bently is an individual who has a real bias for maintaining what you’ve got,” said Ray Case, senior vice president of Bently Nevada Corp. “He had the vision to fix up the old warehouse and has the attitude that given the choice, you should ‘clean it up and put it to use.'”

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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