La Crosse preservation unit OK’s plan for wall when Club Tucan razed — after flap over building neglect

Preservation Commission amends plan to make exterior wall brick instead of stucco
Club Tucan And The Libary
The former Club Tucan, left, is to be razed, meaning that The Library to the right needs to have its north wall shored up. The Historic Preservation Commission was considering what the new exterior wall will look like. (News 8 Now photo)

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — The La Crosse Heritage Preservation Commission deemed plans to shore up a wall when the former Club Tucan building is razed to be appropriate, after a verbal fracas over neglect of historic structures.

Commission member John Satory balked, saying, “I don’t want any blood on my hands” by approving a proposed stucco exterior wall instead of brick.

At issue was “major work” planned for The Library college bar at 123 Third St. S. to stabilize a wall that will be bared when the condemned Club Tucan is torn down. The commission assesses the appropriateness of work in the Downtown Commercial Historic District, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

Tim Acklin, the city’s senior planner for historic preservation, outlined the plan of property owner Fortney Fortney & Fortney to stabilize a shared interior wall and convert it to be an exterior wall. The plan to stabilize the wall, presently two layers of bricks, calls for anchoring it with concrete masonry blocks. The city’s preservation staff recommended approval of the plan for the new exterior, which was to have a plaster finish to give it a textured finish like many other downtown buildings.

Satory denounced the plan as “disgusting,” the result of “ripping down a historic building because the owner didn’t take care of it.”

Satory contended that people buy historic downtown properties and neglect them so that can get permission to demolish them and build anew.

Ultimately, the commission approved the plan, with an amendment that the exterior be brick instead of stucco because it will be prominently visible on Third Street.
Acklin said the brick option will cost roughly twice as much as the stucco.

As Satory persisted in his allegations that property owners allow some buildings to deteriorate, commission Chairwoman Mackenzie Mindel acknowledged the volatility of that view.

However, she said, the commission was considering just the appropriateness of the particular plan and not the demolition of Club Tucan.

“All of us think this (tearing down Tucan) is devastating,” she said. “We are talking about legislation to prevent demolition by neglect.”

The Club Tucan building, known as the Jehlen Building when it was constructed in 1886, originally was a family-run meat market. The Heritage Preservation Commission had dubbed the building one of the city’s 10 most endangered historic places. The building was condemned in March because of decrepit conditions after being vacant for a number of years.

The building’s owner, The Fortney Hospitality Group, was issued a demolition permit in May, allowing six months to take the building down. If it is not done by the deadline, the city would do it at the owner’s expense.

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