Wednesday, May 15, 2013

'Atta Boys and Aw Shucks

I am coming to embrace my inner crankiness. Here is evidence.


Grand Island Masonic Temple
Congratulations to our friends in Grand Island who have recently announced the renovation of an historic Masonic Temple in their downtown into a $12 million luxury hotel. I am so happy for their community and am looking forward to seeing the incredible transformation this will mean for their downtown. Kudos to the energetic and far sighted leadership in Grand Island for making this project happen.

Contrast that with North Platte. In 1974 our community awoke on a Sunday morning to rubble where the beautiful historic Union Pacific depot once proudly stood. The walls that for five years had sheltered more than six million of America's finest troops on their way to the front lines of World War II had been demolished in the blink of an eye. Fingers are still being pointed at Union Pacific Railroad and our community leadership at that time with both saying the other is to blame. 

Hardly a day goes by when I'm telling the story of the North Platte Canteen that I don't hear the comment "It's such a tragedy that the depot was torn down." I concur.

Next came the 1930's building at North Platte High School. Years of
deferred maintenance had turned it into a sorry and dilapidated structure, yet still beautiful and stately. With the school needing to expand, alternatives to demolition were actively being sought. A strong plan was put the voters by the North Platte Public Library which would have involved a bond issue for total renovation. Despite community outcry over North Platte's propensity to dispose of our structural heritage, it was soundly defeated by the voters and the beautiful building is no more.

Recently we heard of the plans for the St. Patrick's Parish of the Catholic Church to demolish the beautiful, historic McDaid building. And only a small murmur of outrage over the terrible gap in North Platte's cityscape this decision is going to mean. While I understand the Parish is under no obligations to involve the public in their private decisions, the right thing to do would have been to let the community know this was the direction they were moving and mobilize a task force to seek and fund alternatives. It is going to be a sad day when the wrecking ball claims another victim.

And that brings us to the endangered Pawnee Hotel building. If you have ever been in the Pawnee, you know of the beautiful art-deco architecture in the two-story atrium, the classic mezzanine, the previously elegant Crystal Ballroom, the fun of the Tom Tom Room and White Horse restaurants. We are kidding ourselves if we think this beautiful historic building is safe from the fate of the Depot, 1930's school building and the McDaid building. It is no secret that the current owners are financially strapped. When the decision is finally made to shutter the current use of the building, is there a plan in place to save it? Are alternatives being explored? Is funding quietly being sought? Is there any LEADERSHIP anywhere in North Platte stepping up to the plate?

Thankfully, there is one bright spot in the dismal skyline of downtown North Platte, and that is the 1913 Post Office currently being renovated into the Prairie Arts Center by Creativity Unlimited Arts Council. Thank God that these wonderful men and women had
the vision and the drive to make this happen. Having been involved with this energetic group for many of years, I can tell you that fundraising to save this building has not come easy. With all of the outcry over the loss of the Depot and the 1930's school building, one would think that donations would come pouring in to save this local landmark, but sadly, that isn't the case. However, this is a very determined group of people and they will get the job done.

So what's next, North Platte? What is the next loss of our architectural heritage we will wake up to? And where is the leadership to keep it from happening?

ShareThis