By Luke Anderson
March 2, 2016
Mark Vinich and Camellia El-Antably, owners of Clay Paper Scissors Gallery and Studio, didn't really intend to tackle a massive renovation of a 19th century building in downtown Cheyenne. They were already located in a historic building a few blocks away from the new site, with a landlord that was very supportive of their needs as an art gallery and studio.
Camellia: He did whatever we wanted to do. Installed lights, windows, doors, sink, and kiln. Didn’t necessarily understand what we were doing, but he just wanted it to be used.
However, when a decrepit building a few blocks away went up for sale, the owners and one of the studio's renting artists had a brainstorm.
Mark: Eric [one of the studio's artists] saw the building. We both like to look at property. We never intended to. It was in awful condition.
Camellia: The realtor took five steps in and said, "you don’t want this building," and walked out.
The building was a mess. An unspeakable bathroom, destroyed floors, lead paint and asbestos all presented reasons for turning and running. But something about it kept their attention.
After finding out about the asbestos, the pair considered not buying it, especially when the seller threatened to back out when asked about covering abatement costs. The deal eventually came through, with the understanding that the building was far from usable.
Mark: It wasn’t a bad price for where it was located. We knew it would take a lot of work to get into using condition.
The project required gutting the entire building to its bare structure. The building had three ceilings, two with asbestos and one with lead paint that had to be dealt with. The condition of the building was so bad that all that could be reasonably preserved were the structure - the walls and the floors.
Camellia: Point of fact, the building was falling down. When they took out the glass façade in the front, the architect called me and said, "we don’t know why your building is still standing." The façade was perched on the sidewalk and not on the foundation so it wasn’t properly supported. The entire façade was supported by a spliced 2x4 that was yanking the bricks out due to the weight of the glass.
It's a common problem that preservationists run into. At some point in many historic buildings' lives, poor quality renovations are done with little or no attention to the historic character of a building. Historic elements are ripped out and thrown away, old floors are torn out, ceilings are covered with asbestos or ugly foam tile. And as is the fate of many other historic buildings, general lack of maintenance over decades leaves many elements of the building in such sad condition they are unable to be preserved.
Mark: Previous renovations didn’t adhere to historical elements.
Camellia: A lot of it was in the '60s and '70s, and poorly done and poorly maintained.
Mark and Camellia chose not to preserve it according to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties for good, practical reasons: it just would have been so much extra work and so much extra valuable dollars. Many of the historic elements were missing or destroyed anyway. However, the gallery owners managed to achieve the ultimate goal of preservation. They saved an old building, and most importantly, made it usable again.
Mark: We preserved it the way it is, I mean, we have the building kept nice, it’s gonna be there for a long time, if we’d kept it how it was it probably wouldn’t last as long. It’s not empty anymore, it’s functional.
And the community noticed as well.
Camellia: Community members at a DDA meeting were appreciative of what has been done to the building, especially in that location. People next door were like, "oh maybe we should do something to our building now."
In the end, Camellia and Mark ended up with a fantastic building that worked for them and for their artists. They turned a disaster of a building from an embarrassing mess to a historic jewel that brought immediate value to the neighborhood. Their dedication to preservation and rehabilitation is a virtue that should indeed be celebrated. The building is a contributing structure to the downtown historic district.
Mark and Camellia would like to thank their contractor Everitt JL Construction in Cheyenne for their amazing work on the building.
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