OUR VIEW: Staley Pump House: Why, how, for whom?

OUR VIEW: Staley Pump House: Why, how, for whom?

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Detail of scale model of original Staley Pumphouse at the Staley Museum in Decatur. The model was created by Lucy Brownlee.

Decatur has a generous heart and a knack for tackling and often winning in efforts against long odds.

On the other hand, there are any number of efforts that remind us sometimes our reach exceeds the limits of our wallets, our physical abilities and what our community can support.

There is a group of people attempting to rescue the former A.E. Staley Mfg. Co Pump House along U.S. 36 in Decatur from the wrecking ball. That’s an admirable endeavor on the surface, But just as half the pump house is under the water line of Lake Decatur, there is plenty the endeavor has yet to reveal.

Stephen J. Kelley, an architectural expert on historic buildings, toured the Pump House, and concluded it was in much better shape than its current owners believe. Tate & Lyle, owners of the 100-year-old structure, have begun demolition preparations for the building.

The question is, if the Pump House is saved, then what? Even more pointedly, how does it get saved?

Decatur loves its old buildings, and being able to save some maybe erases some of the pain of seeing a Carnegie library go away, or a high school demolished, or the demise of many favorite businesses and buildings.

But sometimes, the rescue efforts are done just for the sake of feeling good about protecting something. The important part is making what’s been saved viable.

Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe took part in the tour, and said community efforts to save historic structures would be better off focusing on more usable buildings in better shape. “The Masonic Temple, the Lincoln Theatre, they would be much more viable,” she said.

The gorgeous Masonic Temple is occasionally the site for an event. The Lincoln Square Theatre has been dark for two years and its presence on Facebook is dark. The Lincoln’s website URL also has been allowed to expire.

If the Pump House rescue catches the imagination of people with deep pockets and those capable of removing asbestos and lead paint without damaging the lake, wonderful. In the meantime, asking why and how and for whom are the right questions.


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