New owner planning renovations for Keystone building

·5 min read

Sep. 24—After decades of being boarded up, the Keystone building at 5320 E. Broadway has a new owner who wants to take the boards out of the windows and let the light into the top two floors.

Gary Gene Black, a Greensburg native who's moved back to Indiana from California, closed on the building Sept. 16.

And he realizes he has a big task ahead of him.

Black estimates that it will take about $1 million to get the building back in shape.

Besides needing replacement windows, the building needs roof work, a new heating/air conditioning system, new plumbing and electrical work and a fire escape for the second and third floors.

The place he'll start is likely fixing up the first floor, which held a lawyer's office until this month.

That work includes putting up pinstripe awnings and putting in lighting under the overhangs, providing outside lighting in front of the doors and windows.

Renovating the marble pillars, which have been pitted over time, is not a priority, Black said.

"I'd like to see a full restoration of the building, but that's a lot of money," he said.

The building's still in solid condition except for the roof, and previous owners simply put buckets under leaks, damaging some of the hardwood floors and walls.

"The woodwork is amazing," said Amy Black, his sister, who Black describes as a philanthropist and a grant writer.

She may also become involved with the project, they said.

The stairwells are ornately carved wood with pilasters on the columns that end each bannister.

On the second floor, there are 13 offices that have wooden door frames with transom windows above them, and one of the bathrooms has a ball-foot bathtub.

The third floor has a 50-by-80-foot wood floor that has a basketball hoop installed, and the Blacks were told that it was once a ballroom.

A long history

Black said he believes the building was built by an attorney who had offices on the second floor, along with other offices.

Cass County Historian Thelma Conrad confirmed that.

"In 1897 a soft brick, dilapidated building was torn down in order to build this bigger, more sturdy 3-story building," she shared from her blog.

Rufus Magee, the man who built it, had his law office there from 1899 to 1911. It was named the Keystone building because of a huge key carved over the arch on the front door, she wrote.

Since it was built, it's been home to drug stores, a grocery store, Democrat party headquarters, Dick Sanburn Sporting Goods, law offices — and even the "Logansport Tribune" from 1907 to 1911.

Back to the present

The building still has interesting old features besides woodwork and windows.

On the third floor in the ballroom area is a large safe that has remained closed for an unknown number of years.

In one of the rooms off the ballroom, there's a bit of plaster dug out. Next to it, someone wrote in elegant handwriting, "leave this hole for cigar lighter."

The second floor has a ventilation fan that spans from floor to ceiling. There are also two or three non-working fireplaces in the building, said Amy Black.

Before moving to the Logansport area about two years ago, Black had a large construction firm in California.

He knows what he's getting into, and he's already received bids for some of the work.

Vision for the future

It will take $70,000 to put all of the windows back in (not counting ones that have been bricked up and will likely stay bricked up).

Roof bids he received this week put the work at $40,000 to $50,000, although he may look around, he said. There are also supply chain problems for getting renovations done, he said.

Black thinks the first floor will be for retail, or more likely professional offices, because there's not much foot traffic downtown.

The second floor will also be for offices or loft businesses.

Having apartments isn't viable for a few reasons. There's no parking for the building and not even enough room outside the building for a dumpster for garbage.

He'd also have to put in a sprinkler system for apartments, another expense.

Black and his sister considered offices for the third floor, but after hearing about city needs, they're considering that separating the top floor into smaller spaces won't be its best use.

Amy Black stated by email, "the top floor 'ballroom' is truly ideal for large events such as conferences, meetings, and private functions like weddings, and reunions, and is large enough to feature musicians, entertainers, speakers, etc."

She also cautioned that they've just had the building less than a week.

They've spent the first week cleaning out about 50 years of debris and trash, so plans are still being debated.

The siblings discovered the building for sale while going over a real estate magazine over breakfast.

"Three days later, he bought it," Amy said.

She still lives in northwest Indiana, while Gary and his wife, Holli Black, moved to Logansport about two years ago.

Holli was from Indianapolis originally, and they still have family in Indianapolis and Michigan City.

"We're enjoying that small-town atmosphere," she said.

Besides being a retired construction person, Gary Gene Black is also an accomplished artist and has published a fantasy book, "Piper."

He had been considering a barn loft before Keystone.

"The only reason I got this one is I wanted an artist loft," he said.

He's planning to have that in the southeast corner of the second floor, among the other offices.

Yet how much he will do with the building depends on Logansport, he said.

On Friday, city officials began going through the building, and the two are looking for what grants could help them.

Besides finding the other businesses downtown helpful, the Blacks have also appreciated local government.

"That mayor's office has been incredibly helpful," he said.

Black is also glad Mayor Chris Martin wants to have a merchant area downtown.

To get the foot traffic for a healthy area of merchants, Black said he'd like to see elimination of so many oneway streets and highways through the downtown.

Reach James D. Wolf Jr. at james.wolf@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5117

Twitter @JamesDWolfJr

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