Michael Horne
Back in the News

Renaissance Books to be Deconstructed

Recycled company will carefully take apart and recycle materials from 1895 building.

By - May 20th, 2016 12:26 pm
Renaissance Books, 834 N. Plankinton Ave. Photo by Michael Horne.

Renaissance Books, 834 N. Plankinton Ave. Photo by Michael Horne.

Yes, the headline reads a bit like a Ph D. seminar offering, but in fact it refers to the process by which the 1895 building housing the Renaissance Bookstore, 834 N. Plankinton St., is to be demolished.

The building was for decades troubled by a poor foundation complicated by lack of maintenance, and was subject to protracted legal battle between the owner and the City Attorney. Ultimately, the city condemned the building last fall. [See: Plenty of Horne “City Goes Medieval on Renaissance”.]

This month, an investment group affiliated with Tim Gokhman bought the property. After an inspection of the structure it was determined that it would be demolished.

Landfill not the Destination

Although the building will be razed, it will not be demolished in the traditional “wrecking ball” fashion that we have seen recently employed by Northwestern Mutual in its smaller projects. Instead, the building will be deconstructed by Recyclean, a Kenosha company that has contracted with Gokhman to salvage the building — and its considerable contents, which include tens of thousands of cubic feet of books and who-knows-what accumulated over the nearly four decades that it was owned by Robert John.

Recyclean’s motto is “Deconstruction for a Greener World.” It was founded 20 years ago by Mike Goffman. Through charitable tax donations of recyclable items, owners may in some instances offset the higher costs of deconstruction compared to demolition — and possibly even make a profit from the value of building components sold on commercial markets or to collectors.

For instance, somebody for sure will want to buy the tin ceilings of the bookstore, and, although the footings are unsound, the structural timbers and floor members of the building are largely in good shape. They would have held up the building just fine if there had been anything solid beneath them. The building was constructed in 1895, meaning many of the original materials used to build it are more than 120 years old.

I spoke with Kathryn Thoman of Recyclean, who said “we recycle 100 per cent of materials” in building demolitions. “The entire building will be taken apart and recycled, rather than just going to the landfill like a traditional demo,” she said.

When I sent an e-mail asking who was going to sell the contents, she replied, “We are! Why, ya wanna buy a book?”

As of now, Thoman is not quite sure what awaits the firm. The sale has not yet closed, but the firm hopes to get access to the building some time in the upcoming week to assess the situation and start hauling stuff out of there. One project will be to see how many of the books are in good enough condition to peddle en masse to Half-Price Books, she said.

Then, just as the original builders carefully considered how to put this structure together (well, except for the foundation), the deconstructors will follow their steps in reverse order, gracefully letting the old structure down and revealing a riverfront site for future development while rescuing irreplaceable natural materials, and keeping a bunch of carbon sequestered for decades to come. Recyclean has two warehouses for salvage materials, she says.

In fact, Thoman says she is amazed that old, wasteful demolition techniques like those employed by Northwestern Mutual at the Vermont Building, and Karl Kopp at 100 E. Seeboth St. are still in use. For that matter, it appears the unique, 1880’s materials in the Nick’s House tavern on the East Side will not be saved, if that planned demolition occurs.

“I’m surprised you don’t have a requirement” for deconstruction in Milwaukee, she said. This might be a matter for the City’s ECO office to consider.

Or for one of the 15 Common Council members. This deconstruction should make clear the benefits.

Renaissance Books, 834 N. Plankinton Ave.

6 thoughts on “Back in the News: Renaissance Books to be Deconstructed”

  1. Deconstructed like a text?

  2. Brian Winters says:

    Too pedestrian to just say “torn down.” If you see a wrecking ball with “derrida” painted on it, watch out.

  3. ithacaan says:

    Old habits die hard, especially when up faced with perceived expedience. The outright demolition of the Vermont was a waste. NML could have done better.

  4. Buildings are often “demolished”.

  5. This comment section might contain the first and last mention of Derrida in Urban Milwaukee.

  6. Virginia Small says:

    Recycling building materials is a great sustainability model. It’s an old ethic that continually seems new. Hats off to Recyclean.

    Jeramey, thanks for laying out the benefits. I wonder if the bulldozer method seems quicker but has few other major benefits.

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