Inside the Newsroom

News, commentary, insight on local happenings and fun from the staff of The Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A hundred years hence (and some change)

I walked through what was Kelly's and The Saline Cafe with new owner Pete Toarmina a few times over the last month and found the place a storehouse of local history.

Not to be too figurative, but I began thinking how old buildings such as those are something like ancestors, in the way that they seem to embody the good and the bad of the people who came before us.

Just like fathers and mothers, these structures have aged, some better than others depending upon maintenance, and hold the wisdom of collected years. They've seen a thing or two.

So, just as we might go to our own mom or dad seeking advice, we should also look to these buildings for advice, because all of the positive and negative aspects of their history can help us to direct our own lives with more precision.

The 103 and 105 block of W. Michigan Ave. that houses what was The Saline Cafe dates to 1876 a bit more than a decade after the Civil War.

As Pete would tell you, there are many functional problems to address with a building of this age, but, for the most part, it is intact and standing up well for its years.

That's quite an accomplishment and a blessing our ancestors left. Think of all the mid to late-19th century downtown districts we have in Michigan and how much we adore them for their charm and character.

They looked to the Italians and Greeks for civil inspiration, and we can look to these 19th century leaders and admire their collective resolve to achieve great things in times of hardship.

David Rhoads spoke about his own fondness for buildings of this era at the 'Saline Salutes' award ceremony hosted by the chamber of commerce over the weekend.

He said he loves working with structures such as these because they speak to him of the tenacity of those who put them up.

Rhoads' point is a good one to consider. Why is it so important that these people built in styles such as Italianate, Greek Revival, Neo-Classical and the like?

I tend to think Rhoads is correct about their tenaciousness dispositions, in that these motifs symbolize greatness and civic pride, as well as an abiding sense that we will get ahead and be OK.

Far from being irrelevant, these concepts can help us a great deal as we consider our own contemporary financial woes among other burning issues. Will we chose to have resolve and find ways to showcase that sensibility in our town?

Our ancestors were not perfect, for from it, but their architecture seems to have many redeeming values we should most certainly attempt to learn from.

Perhaps this is why I become so sullen when I hear of another historical building torn down, or have to drive by and see one neglected for years on end.

It feels like burying a family member.

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