After a long, embattled road to save the outer framework of the fire-ravaged Madison Elks building at 420 West St. in downtown Madison, Ind., local preservationists can now claim victory in the wake of sale of the structure to a local couple who plan to restore it and convert it into apartments. The building burned in a ferocious early morning fire on Aug. 25, 2006, in what investigators later ruled as arson. No one has ever been arrested for setting the fire.
Larry and Valecia Crisafulli have only been in Madison for four years, but already they have made an impact, having recently completed the renovation of the building at 108 W. Main St. that now houses four apartments upstairs and Serendipity gift shop on the ground floor.
Madison Elks Building Timeline
– Compiled by Jan Vetrhus, Cornerstone Society
1904: B.P.O.E. Lodge 524 edifice built; serves as lodge until 2006
1920s: Main entrance altered; open arch filled in and new front door installed at bottom of staircase (sidewalk level).
2006: Building catches fire (August); first thought to be accidental, but then ruled arson. Madison Main Street Program launches fundraising campaign to save the building. Fire also causes extensive damage to neighboring buildings at 418 W. St. and 106 E. Third St.
2008: Elks Lodge 524 abandons thoughts of restoring fire damage; decides to relocate elsewhere; explores options for disposing of West Street property and accepts insurance settlement.
2009: Indiana Landmarks identifies possible new owner willing to take over building and rehabilitate. Elks organization turns property over to the Cornerstone Society Inc. (an Indiana Landmarks Affiliate), which serves as a pass-through entity and in turn deeds the property over to Carolyn Barr (DBA ReBarr Restoration LLC), and also turns over approximately $38,000 in cash to ReBarr to fund rehabilitation (total of Elks insurance settlement and donations made to MMSP rescue fund). City of Madison issues building permit. ReBarr begins cleanup and starts rehabilitation work.
2011: Rehabilitation work slows, then stalls. The building permit expires, and the city of Madison threatens to have the building demolished, and then initiates litigation to affirm validity of demolition order.
2012: Titan Investment Group of Florence, Ky., attempts to negotiate purchase of the building to convert to condominium apartments, but the deal falls through. Later in the year, the Cornerstone Society negotiates an agreement with the city of Madison and ReBarr, outlining conditions under which Rebarr would be able to obtain a building permit and continue with the rehabilitation. In exchange, ReBarr executes a deed to be placed in escrow pending completion of exterior rehabilitation. Work progresses on installing a new roof, but the rehabilitation eventually stalls.
2014: Volunteer effort organized by the Cornerstone Society to implement limited cleanup, fix-up and paint-up work to improve overall appearance of the facade. No further work performed by ReBarr. Building permit issued in 2012 expires.
2015: In an effort to give ReBarr a final opportunity to recoup at least part of money invested, the Cornerstone Society issues an ultimatum calling for the property has to be listed for sale. Property is listed for $120,000.
2016: With no foreseeable prospect of further work or sale at any realistic price, the Cornerstone Society sets in motion a plan to claim deed held in escrow. Deed is released from escrow, delivered and recorded in September.
2017: Cornerstone Society issued RFP, reviewed and evaluated the proposals and selected PlaceWorks LLC as the winning proposal. Then it began the negotiation of specific terms of sale, an accurate survey of the property and consummation of the deal.
August 2017: Cornerstone Society sells the property to Larry and Valecia Crisafulli, Madison, Ind., residents who immediately begin work to clean up and rehabilitate the property as an apartment building.
The couple now turns their attention to saving the Elk building, with the help of construction manager Brian Martin of Madison. The Crisafullis hired Martin to assist in the project. They also hired Ratio Architects to help design the plans for apartments on two levels, with two loft apartments on the main floor and two or three apartments on the lower level.
“The building was sitting there for so long just waiting for something to happen,” Valecia Crisafulli said. “The demand we have seen in residential space in the downtown was also a factor in our decision to buy and renovate it.”
The couple expects the cleanup and restoration project to take about two years. The cleanup effort began in earnest in September soon after the August closing of the sale from Cornerstone Society Inc., a local preservation group and an affiliate of Indiana Landmarks. Cornerstone Society owned the property and has been working to save it from demolition over the years. The unique building exhibits the elegant Beaux-Arts Neoclassical style of architecture that originated with the French art schools known as “I’Ecole des Beaux-Arts” in the late 19th century. Only one other building in Madison has this style of architecture – the former Rogers Corner, now Shooters Sports Bar & Restaurant.
Prior to the sale of the building to the Crisafullis, Cornerstone Society in 2009 had turned the property over to Carolyn Barr, a real estate developer who owns ReBarr Restoration in Cannellton, Ind. But when she failed to follow through with the project, the deal fell through and Cornerstone Society took back the property, according to terms of the contract.
In 2012, Cornerstone Society nearly completed a deal to sell the structure to Titan Investment Group of Florence, Ky., for conversion to an apartment building. But that deal also fell through.
Cornerstone gave Barr another chance to rehabilitate the structure, but the effort stalled. Cornerstone Society then initiated a volunteer effort to clean up, paint and stabilize the facade while it seeks a buyer for the property, which is listed at $120,000.
At one point, the city of Madison had voted to demolish the structure, but preservationists were able to avert that from happening by shoring up the structure and having a roof built to protect the interior from weather damage. Local architect and Cornerstone Society member Peter Ellis did much of the work to install the roof and protect some of the stonework from damage.
“It’s been a group effort by a lot of volunteers to save the building from demolition, said Jan Vetrhus, former president of Cornerstone Society. “I credit (current president) Link Ludington for getting us over the goal line.”
Vetrhus said the final sale required good timing and “finding the right people who can see what the project can be. It’s exciting to see all that work finally reach a positive outcome.”
Martin said he does not yet know the scope of the cleanup or what can be salvaged until workers get farther along in the cleanup effort.
“It’s a big challenge. The shell of the structure looks to be in pretty good shape. But if it sat much longer, it would be harder to save it,” said Martin, who has done work on the Masonic Lodge building in Madison, the old City Hall building next door to the Elks, the former joeyg’s Restaurant and Nightclub and the former Artful Living.
The Crisafullis also hired Ratio Architects of Indianapolis because the firm has had some history with the building, Valecia said. She said that sitting idly by and seeing such a historic structure in Madison’s National Historic Landmark District fall into disrepair “is not in our DNA. We hope that by taking on this project it will inspire other developers to do more projects like this in Madison.”
From left, contractor Brian Martin poses with Valecia and Larry Crisafulli outside the Madison Elks building, which they plan to renovate into apartments.
Vetrhus said of the Crisafullis, “It’s exciting to see what they’ve done on Main Street. And we appreciate their commitment to hire local contractors. It’s really a good fit, and I’m excited to see what they do with the Elks building.”
The Crisafullis are from Illinois and discovered Madison several years ago when their son attended nearby Hanover College. Larry is a retired dentist who now teaches several days a week for Indiana University at its campus in Indianapolis. Valecia spent 25 years working for the National Main Street Program. She spent 11 years working as a former Small Business specialist in Washington, D.C. She also served as the statewide Main Street coordinator in her native Illinois. In fact, she founded the state’s Main Street Program after having operated a retail business for many years in Lincoln, Ill. The state now boasts 50 Main Street Programs.
The couple moved to Madison in 2013 and bought a home on Main Street. They joined the Madison Main Street Program, in which Valecia directs the Business Recruitment subcommittee. Last year she took over as executive director of Envision Jefferson County, a program of the county’s economic development agency.
Photo by Don Ward
The inside of the main level of the Madison Elks building shows a shell that is still relatively intact despite the fire damage and years of weather impact.
Regarding the community’s long, sometime tumultuous struggle to save the Elks from demolition, Valecia said, “I know people get frustrated with how long things take. I remember the Saddletree Factory sat for 20 years in disrepair, and now it’s a one-of-a-kind museum right here in Madison. It sometimes just takes the right people to come along, and the market has to be right.
Thanks to the Crisafullis, they will soon have a few more choices for living in the nation’s largest National Historic Landmark District.
“Madison is up and coming right now, and lots of people want to move here.”
• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.
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