On the scaffold is Andy Garrett, who is assisted by Andy Butler. The pair, along with Chris Butler (not pictured), are trying to preserve the old charm of Historic Downtown Martin with a building recently purchased by Savant.
A new wave of downtown refurbishing is sweeping down Lindell Street in Martin, taking with it old metal facades and revealing intricate turn-of-the-century brickwork. At least 10 buildings are seeing major renovations and there are prospects for a new building on the corner of University and Lindell that will be built over the rubble of the old dry cleaners. When completed, the spruced-up buildings will complement an already colorful and historical downtown revitalization that began decades ago with the restoration of storefronts on Broadway across the railroad tracks and has continued into the present day.
Many of Lindell’s buildings have already been restored and Martin has been designated a certified Tennessee Downtowns Community.
Most of the new activity is led by Savant Learning Systems, a comprehensive on-line education partner that is headquartered in Martin. Over the past three years, the company, which now has about 55 employees, has acquired eight properties on Lindell – the two buildings that made up the old Van’s Pharmacy, two buildings just north of Oxford Street, the former Hair by Pate building, the red building next to Van’s former home, and the lot where the two dry cleaning buildings were located.
The interior of the main office for the company is nearly completed in the former Van’s Pharmacy where an elegant main entrance will be located in the back of the building. Plaster has been chipped away there to reveal exposed brick.
Other downtown buildings will have offices for the graphic designers, computer programmers and other Savant employees, as well as at least two upstairs apartments for corporate visitors.
Long-time Weakley County resident, Tommy Legins, (chief financial officer) CFO of Savant, says Savant is “big on history and the heritage of this town.” Both he and founder Nassar Nassar, also of Martin, are UT Martin business graduates. He says the company wants to be part of the movement to “revitalize downtown” and help make it “aesthetically pleasing.” The company hopes to pull most of its new employees from within a 60-mile radius of Martin.
Nearly all of Savant’s exterior and interior construction and renovation is being managed by downtown Martin’s Color Shop Construction where its owner, Bubba Kelly, is keen to keep as many of the original historical features alive as possible. Indeed, many unique exterior elements, long hidden under metal facades, have been revealed.
“There’s no way of knowing what’s there,” says Kelly, who says he “just loves preserving old buildings.”
When the metal coverings were ripped off of the three buildings near the corner of Oxford for instance, two nice brick facades were uncovered, but one of the buildings was just plain concrete block.
Kelly, along with Chad Snider, has purchased the former Apple Barrel building, which is also undergoing renovations. So fascinated by old buildings is Kelly that he plans to convert the store into a shop called Live Oak Wholesale and Acquisitions, which will buy and sell antiques and reclaimed material such as rough sawn joists.
But, meanwhile, Kelly is trying to preserve as much as he can of the old feel of downtown Martin in the buildings currently under his supervision.
On the outside, ornamental iron arch vents and steel “I” beams with through bolts are features that will be preserved along with the brickwork. In some instances, large plate glass fronts have been enhanced with mahogany casings.
With about 4,800 square feet in many of these two story buildings, some 100 feet long and 20 feet wide, there is a feel of spaciousness and light accentuated by the 10- and 12-foot ceilings.
Inside these vast structures, more liberties have been taken to update the interiors for modern day office use. New plumbing and wiring has to be installed and some old floors have had to be torn out and resurfaced. In the Van’s building, the mezzanine level came out and a new back staircase was constructed. A suspended cat walk leads to a conference room.
Where possible, brick is left exposed as it is in the executive offices upstairs in the Pate building or inside the Apple Barrel.
Tin ceilings are still evident in the Van’s building where a newer, stamped tin ceiling has been added as an extension of the old.
Kelly says that many of the downtown buildings originally had old metal-cased skylights to let light into the gloomy attics. In the Van’s building, a new skylight has been fitted into the old spot, bringing natural light into the upper reaches of the building.
While recognizing the need to preserve the old, Legins says there is also an attempt to make the interiors “effective, functional and efficient.”
In the downstairs of one side of the Van’s building, a very modern studio, replete with green screen, has been installed to film top authors of academic textbooks who come into Martin to record their lectures for online learning programs for such schools as Bethel University.
Two linked buildings that formed the dry cleaners on the corner of University did have to come down, however, since they were judged structurally unsound. The roof had partially caved in pushing out the walls, according to Kelly.
“We tried to save what we could,” said Kelly, who has since sold the empty lot to Savant. Included in the salvage was one of two cast iron columns.
Drawings for a new building to go into the old dry cleaner spot on the corner will be submitted to the Martin Historic Zoning Commission, which oversees all changes in the historic downtown district.
Office Products is also doing work on buildings next to The Weakley County Press where exposed brick and stamped tin ceilings are adding historical charm to the downtown offices. The two metal facades of La Cabana will also be stripped off in coming weeks, says Kelly.
Meanwhile, carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians and other contractors scurry up and down Lindell adding finishing touches to their work. They cannot help but be influenced by generations before them who beautified places of business for doctors, lawyers and dry-goods salesmen in a different kind of downtown.
Some of those old Martin names are still etched in brick and glass.