Moonrise: Saving the Silvermoon
For years, like most Texarkanians, we had a gnawing unhappiness about the plight of downtown Texarkana. The original birthplace of Texarkana, home to some irreplaceable historic treasures, and previously the center of commerce and activity for this area—the downtown area generally had deteriorated over decades, a sad byproduct of the draw of Interstate 30 and the growth of commercial and residential developments in the north end of town.
Truth is, we have always felt an acute sense of community mindedness and have been trained to live that out wherever possible. Plus, we have been blessed in many ways by being in this community. One day, we started looking at downtown and considering what we could do to help.
Enter Main Street Texarkana, just one local organization that is part of what has become a nationwide movement to treasure, save, and restore historic downtowns across the nation. In May 2006, the then MST Executive Director, Bethany Hanna, pointed us toward a group of storefront buildings in the 200 block of West Broad Street, some of which had been standing since before 1885, but all of which were in danger of collapse. Her message was that, unless something was done to save those buildings soon, virtually the entire block was endangered.
The buildings had not been properly maintained for many years. That had taken its toll, and all of the buildings were decaying. Some parts of them had already collapsed. The questions we faced were, "Can these buildings be saved?" and, "If so, should we try?"
Main Street arranged for a structural engineer expert in old buildings to inspect the buildings and to answer the first question. He did, and the answer was, "They can be saved." We thought and prayed for the answer to the second question.
With that bit of comfort and the ultimate conviction that we should make the effort, we bought the buildings in February 2007 and started the process of trying to reclaim them from the ravages of neglect, weather, and time. We realized that we didn't know how to do this and that we needed a historical restoration architect. Multiple recommendations pointed to Tommy Jameson of Little Rock. Discussions with him were successful, and Tommy joined the project.
We ran dual tracks for a time, doing our own clearing of stuff from within the buildings and dreaming with Tommy about what the buildings could become.
In August 2007, Diana, Josh, a handful of stalwart students/friends, and a couple of homeless men spent almost two weeks unloading the buildings of materials that had accumulated inside for decades. In the end, we emptied the buildings of approximately 63 tons of "junk." The project was off to a start.
Meanwhile, our architect had developed an overall concept on how to use the spaces most effectively. Where a roof had collapsed, a courtyard would rise. Where multiple floors had had been taken out in the collapse of an old elevator shaft, an atrium would be formed. Guided by the idea of "flexible hospitality," the plan took shape.
We retained M.L. James Construction as the prime contractor to oversee the project; and, in January 2009, work began under the supervision of attentive and able job superintendent, Terry Beale. Because of the terrible condition of the buildings, extensive internal demolition was required. Because of the fragility of the buildings and limited internal support of the exterior masonry walls, the demolition had to be conducted in careful coordination with the construction of internal supports. Though the key façade on the 3-story 217 initially bulged outward some 3½ inches and was in danger of collapse into the street, it was saved by carefully pulling it into vertical. Workers used creativity as they would demo a bit, build a bit, little by little, until the internal structure of the buildings was solid and the structures were no longer in danger of falling down.
Creativity was required, not just of the contractor, the job superintendent, the various workers, the architect, and the owners, but also the City of Texarkana, Texas, in its role of overseeing building codes and work permits, and American State Bank, in its role of project lender. This project did not fit into any regular slots, so we all had to think outside the box. We received marvelous cooperation at all points and have been blessed all along the way.
Of course, the magnitude of this project still takes our breath away. It's larger than business logic would suggest. In fact, it is a huge exercise in faith. Because of events, direction, and connections made along the way, we have become convinced that God will provide in time, as we (through what is a lavish expenditure to save dead, collapsing buildings) can get a tiny glimpse of God's extravagant grace toward us.
We have been told that the Silvermoon on Broad project has added significant energy to, and interest in, the continued rise and vitality of downtown Texarkana and dramatically changed attitudes about its prospects. So glad to be a part!
For photos of the 'Moon's rising, see these publically accessible Facebook albums: The earliest views, before construction began, can be seen in Silvermoon Dreams. The earlier days of construction can be seen in the Silvermoon Rising album. Latter construction images are in the album, Silvermoon 1: New Moon. (These albums can be viewed without joining Facebook.)