Historical society looks for new headquarters

October 1, 2009

By Michael Timm

The Lupo House, built in 1910 and purchased by the city of St. Francis in 1990, will likely be razed because it is proving a drain on city resources during economic recession and repairs are deemed too costly. The St. Francis Historical Society, its tenant since 1993, is looking for a new home. ~photo Michael Timm

The Lupo House, built in 1910 and purchased by the city of St. Francis in 1990, will likely be razed because it is proving a drain on city resources during economic recession and repairs are deemed too costly. The St. Francis Historical Society, its tenant since 1993, is looking for a new home. ~photo Michael Timm

A lone farmhouse is packed with artifacts of the St. Francis Historical Society but won’t be for long.

With the city of St. Francis signaling it will not pay for roof and structural repairs to the Lupo House, 4168 S. Packard Ave., historical society members petitioned for time to find another location in which to relocate their collection of historic memorabilia before their headquarters is razed.

“The city wants to take it down. I think it will happen as soon as we can find a new home,” said William Drehfal, historical society member and spokesperson for the group at the St. Francis Common Council meeting Sept. 15. Drehfal said he’s grateful the city has not set a hard deadline for the group’s de-facto eviction-though he thinks the city doesn’t want to turn on the house’s heat for the winter-but he’s acknowledged the society will lose its home.

Expensive Problems

The city owns the house, which is open to the public when the society meets there every third Saturday 11am-12pm, with tours upon request. Repairs to fix a leaking roof, which has endangered the society’s collection of at least 1,500 items, are estimated at $30,000 to $40,000, according to St. Francis Mayor Al Richards. The building is not handicapped accessible and members have discouraged use of the house’s bathroom to reduce the risk of further water damage.

“The problem is not only the roof. It’s the whole facility over there. It looks nice on the outside. It’s a horror story on the inside,” St. Francis City Administrator Ralph Voltner said. “Right now, the city of St. Francis doesn’t have a penny to help.”

Saving the Collection

Voltner suggested the historical society get a trailer for the important items, but Drehfal said the group had decided against that possibility because some materials are sensitive to temperature and humidity-plus, more importantly, they need to have access to the collection to work on it. “We need a place where we can work on it and it can be kept safely,” Drehfal said.

Mary Drehfal questioned if the utilities savings from the historical society not using the Lupo House could be diverted to pay rent in a new space. Voltner said no, adding that the city would likely face an upcoming deficit and implied it could not afford this.

Council members suggested the historical society investigate Deer Creek, Sacred Heart, or the Marian Center for Nonprofits to find at least interim space for the collection. Drehfal told the Compass the society hopes to find a new home in three or four weeks.

Mayor Richards suggested the historical society develop a marketing plan, find grant writers, and even start a Facebook page to drum up interest and work toward a goal of a new headquarters. “Right now it just looks like a dead horse,” Richards said.

Drehfal acknowledged the need to raise the society’s profile. He told the council the society, which claims 115 members, is in a period of transition and new board members will be elected.

Lupo House

The city of St. Francis purchased the 3.5-acre Lupo family homestead, just south of Denton Avenue, in 1990 for $80,000, according to period press accounts in the St. Francis Reminder. The city sought the land for parking spaces for its municipal park, but the St. Francis Historical Society soon expressed interest in using the house as its headquarters. In 1993, the city and historical society agreed upon a 10-year renewable lease.

Built in 1910 as a wooden farmhouse, the structure sits on land once owned by Bay View pioneer George Wentworth. In 1937, the land was sold to Thomas Marchese, local racecar promoter, who renovated the house in 1940, adding the brick exterior. In 1941, Marchese sold to steam shovel operator Frank Lupo, who started Midwest Grading there in 1948. Lupo’s children sold to the city after Frank died in 1990, according to the 1991 Reminder.

At one point, the society planned to renovate Lupo House in the style of the 1950s, but by 1999, roof problems had become evident and council enthusiasm for an aging and less active society was already waning.

In 2001, former St. Francis Mayor Milt Vretenar drew up plans for a brand new facility to house the historical society and its collections at 4216 S. Packard Ave., but historical society president Jim Goodwin said fundraising for the renovated St. Francis Public Library superseded that project, which was left on the shelf.

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