Monday, September 18, 2000

Preservation takes off


With city backing, group aims to save old Lebanon

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — The Lebanon Conservancy Foundation has made a mark in its first year of protecting old buildings here.

        Signs have long welcomed visitors to “Historic Lebanon,” but it took the conservancy to pressure officials into putting taxpayer money behind preserving historic buildings.

        “These houses are like orphans,” conservancy treasurer Gerald Miller said. “They can't talk for themselves.”

        Lebanon is one of the older communities in Warren County. In recent years, downtown has banked its survival on selling antiques and other merchandise in buildings that date mostly to the mid- to late 1800s.

        The conservancy, a private, nonprofit group, was formed last September after an informal survey by Mr. Miller and fellow shopkeeper Marilyn Haley indicated the city had lost almost 200 historic downtown buildings in 45 years.

        In its inaugural effort, the conservancy spared at least two buildings from the wrecking ball this year:

        • The city was taking bids on demolishing an 1880s Victorian on North Broadway last fall when the group adopted that as its first cause, applying political pressure. Students at the Warren Career Center start renovating the house Monday for use as recreation department offices, at an estimated cost of $85,000 to the city.

        • Businessman John McComb was preparing to tear down the fire-dam aged house at 27 N. Mechanic St. in the spring when conservancy members pressured City Council into intervening. The city decided to take the property through eminent domain, with the courts still to decide how much it must pay Mr. McComb.

        “There isn't another oldest house,” Mrs. Haley, conservancy president, said of the Federal-style building, thought to have been built in 1808. “The architecture of that house, it's so wonderful.”

        Not everyone in Lebanon wants to see tax money spent on these old buildings. Pro and con forces had dueling petitions circulating before the city made its decision on the Mechanic Street house.

        Property owner Mr. McComb, ironically, was a charter member of the conservancy, but he dis agrees with the direction it has gone. He thinks private efforts would be more effective in preserving buildings.

        “I joined the group because it was portrayed that they were going to foster the spirit of preservation,” said Mr. McComb, who himself has restored buildings. “But in my opinion they have spent more time in the past year being a political action group than a preservation group.”

        A recent city survey found strong support for saving old buildings. On a scale of 1 to 10, in which 10 means every historic building should be preserved, residents gave an average score of 7.96. The survey, conducted by Strategic Visioning Inc., was based on 500 phone interviews and has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

       



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