John Gewalt

John Gewalt approaches the building on the 100 block of Washington Street as workers continue their jobs. At the top, from the left, are Michael Bankston and Terry Malone.

The owners of a 110-year-old building on the 100 block of West Washington Street are giving the structure’s face a lift.

But to put it back up, they first have to take much of it down, and that’s what workers for brick mason Paul Mueller are doing this week, using scaffolding to climb up and down and remove the facade brick by brick.

Its owners say Mueller thinks the building was damaged by weather that, through a long-gone awning, caused contraction and expansion of the wall.

Jeanne and John Gewalt

Jeanne and John Gewalt stand on West Washington Street in front of their building. Its structural problems are leading to the building’s restoration.

“It was destined to collapse,” said John Gewalt, an architect whose wife, Jeanne, an architectural historian, owns the building. But it didn’t, because they have stepped up.

The front of the 3,200-square-foot building, one of two on its lot, has been bowing streetward for some years, said Victor Stokes, the city of Greenwood’s director of community development. The building most recently was the home of Schissel law office and a barber shop.

After recent storms, it became evident that the facade was no longer stable, and Stokes contacted the Gewalts. They moved to Greenwood from California (after also having lived in Louisiana) 1½ years ago and have been restoring a home on River Road.

They immediately drove over when Stokes called them.

“We have been working with Paul over a year on fireplaces and brickwork on our home here,” John said. “We called him while Victor and I were standing there. He wasn’t free until a week ago.”

Right now, they are not certain exactly how the original facade might have appeared, Jeanne said, and their current plans are to restore it as accurately as possible.

The building, which is painted light gray, likely will end up being brown after the paint is removed from bricks and they are re-erected. It’s also planned that the corners of the building will have quoins. These are employed in a type of masonry that adds both visual interest and strength to the corners of structures.

Eventually, the building will have one entrance and house offices, Jeanne said. The facade restoration will be completed “just as soon as we can,” she said. The Gewalts are thinking that might be accomplished in 45 days.

John has been sketching ideas, and Jeanne, who used to teach at Louisiana State University, has been looking into the building’s history.

Former Historic Elks Building site

A 1970s-era photo shows the building adjacent to the Paramount Theater, which burned in 1980, and Elks Club, now the restored Historic Elks Building.

Building restoration

The brick wall of this building, erected in 1910, is being restored after structural problems raised fears of eventual collapse.

“We bought it for storage,” she explained, but they are gung ho about restoring the building. The Historic Elks Building is its neighbor on the west, and on the east, there is a parking lot where the Paramount Theater used to be. The theater was built in 1912 and was operated as a theater and then a disco.  It was destroyed by fire in November 1980.

Allan Hammons, a Greenwood advertising executive who collects photos and information about the city’s history, was asked about the building. He dug into his files and produced a photo of the theater and the Gewalts’ building, which he said was taken around 1970. The photo, which was a gift to West Washington Street Books from the heirs of Jimmy Landers, shows the Gewalts’ building with two awnings.  

Hammons reported that in 1936, the building’s tenants were Pepper Electric, Criss Beauty Shoppe and the Paramount Inn. In 1954, Nelia’s Beauty Shoppe and Tominello’s Cafe were located there, and the Pizza Pie cafe was housed in the building around 1970, when it had three storefronts.

“The east side was Peteet Insurance Agency for many years, from the early 1950s through the end of the company,” he said.  

Meanwhile, the Gewalts are charmed by Greenwood. They had been looking for a house in Mississippi that is close enough to make business interests in Louisiana accessible.

“The house brought us here, and Greenwood gave us the assurance to stay here,” Jeanne said.

•Contact Susan Montgomery at 581-7241 or smontgomery@gwcommonwealth.com.

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