ELKHART — How do you put a price on history?
That kind of subjective question opens itself to an endless debate for some folks. One man’s slab of limestone is another man’s simple rock formation.
But when it comes to parts of a building such as the Elkhart Armory that has touched so many people’s lives for more than a century, the desire to save some of that history gets a bit more serious.
When it came to preserving parts of the Armory’s architecture, city officials put a price on specific pieces they wanted to be saved when they prepared a contract with the demolition crew, Indiana Earth Inc. of Osceola.
Placing prices on the specific items served as an incentive for the crew to successfully extract the limestone figures as they began work last week to demolish the 100-plus year-old structure on North Main Street. And the itemized list had more to do with the labor involved in delicately removing limestone remnants.
“It was more of putting a price on what we anticipated on the difficulty” of removal, said Barkley Garrett, the city’s director of economic development.
Nonetheless, the effort did come at a cost.
The contract’s base figure to demolish the building was $134,300, but officials added $7,100 to that for the recovery of 11 elements, including the five sections of limestone on the building’s west side that served as the “Elkhart Armory” sign.
The extra effort paid off and work crews successfully removed everything on the list so far as the demolition project continues to eat away at the building from the west to the east.
The emphasis toward reclaiming some of the building came from Mayor Dick Moore, according to Garrett.
All of the items have been moved to the street department facility on 17th Street and will remain there until city officials determine how those pieces will be used.
The limestone sign carried with it a value of $1,500 while the corner pieces that sat atop the building’s west side — known as capitals — were valued at $400 each.
Saving items from landmarks is nothing new for the city of Elkhart. Parts of the old Miles Laboratories building were saved and incorporated into the design at Sterling Park, known by some as Labour Park, for the factory that once stood there.
The Armory had a varied history ranging from some military use in the early part of the 20th century and later became a popular A&P store and a skating rink on the upper floor.
Numerous ideas will be considered, and no doubt, the city will have plenty of options.
While some items could very well be used creatively in parks or future city projects, numerous people have suggested that re-purposing some items into future redevelopment of the Armory property would be ideal.
Moore, who understands the importance of preserving the community’s history, said he has his own personal ideas on the matter, but is unsure what will eventually happen.
Moore said he could envision the Armory property somehow memorializing its military history.
Some people have suggested the Armory property should become a nicely landscaped entrance to the RiverWalk along the Elkhart River just to the east, with some of the items being incorporated into the design, Moore said.
But Moore admits that kind of idea needs to be weighed against strong interests in seeing the land developed for commercial or residential uses, which would help boost efforts to revitalize the downtown and generate more tax revenues.
In the meantime, the fate of the property sits in the hands of the redevelopment commission, which will soon start to look for investors and will control how it will be developed.
Price of preservation
This is an itemized list of architectural elements the city of Elkhart paid to preserve during demolition of the Elkhart Armory. Figures are based on the contract with Indiana Earth Inc., and were obtained with a public records request.
Two capitals on the west face of the building, $400 each
Five decorative insets on the west face of the building, $400 each
Limestone sign on the building’s west side, $1,500
Two decorative insets on the building’s south side, $400 each
Limestone base on the building’s west side, $2,000