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Renovate to the past
by Gary Kent
Jul 15, 2010 | 1248 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Wade Sorensen, one of Lee Copeland’s employees, prepares a door frame for refinishing at the Thompson Building.
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When work is completed on the facade of the Thompson Building at 108 W. Corpus Christi St., the owners are hoping it does not look brand spanking new.

Dale Morris and James Barefoot want the building to look just like it did in an 1895 photo at City Hall.

Lee Copeland, a contractor who specializes in restoring historic buildings in South Texas, said he found the photo while doing some research on the old building just north of the Bee County Courthouse.

Morris said he and Barefoot, partners in Petroleum Exploration and Production, started thinking about restoring the old building not long after Barefoot bought it several years ago.

At first, they got help from Beeville Main Street Manager Molly Young. But she left town to further her education and the project sort of fell through the cracks.

When Michelle Wright assumed the duties of Main Street manager last year, she learned that the Texas Historical Commission no longer had its plans for the restoration of the facade.

Wright went to work and got the project back on the front burner.

That was when Copeland came into the picture. Morris has an apartment in Rockport and knew of Copeland because of some work he had done on historic buildings in that bayfront city.

One of the first duties for Copeland’s construction crew was to remove the already peeling stucco from the brick on the facade. Copeland said he had hoped to be able to save the yellow brick on the building but it was too far gone. That meant new stucco would have to be applied to the building.

But the brick underneath was not in very good shape.

“It had to come off anyway,” Copeland said of the stucco. Now, with a new covering on the exterior of the building and work almost completed, all that is left to do is select colors for the painters.

Copeland said he was trying to find the earliest photo of the building to determine what it looked like. He finally found what he wanted at City Hall. It was a photo taken in about 1895 from the courthouse. The photo showed the Thompson Building and the Rio Theater next door. The corner property, where the Praeger Building was built shortly after the turn of that century, was vacant in the photo.

The Praeger Building now houses the Joe Barnhart Bee County Library.

In the photo, the Thompson building has a sign at the top that said Drug Store.

When the stucco was removed earlier this year, people claimed they noticed what they called a “ghost image” at the top of the building.

Morris said it took some time to figure out what the ghost image said. “We think it said Bell Telephone and Telegraph,” he said.

In the 1958 Centennial edition of the Bee-Picayune, an article explained that the Eureka Telephone Co. operated a telephone exchange in the second floor of the building between 1909 and 1912.

“At one time a drugstore occupied the lower floor and it has recently been modernized and converted into the law building owned by John Barnhart,” the article said.

Morris said he gave Barnhart a tour of the building recently and the former owner pointed out many of the more interesting features of the interior, including where his law library had been kept when he had his office there between 1958 and 1961.

The article explained that Southwestern Bell later bought the Eureka Telephone Co. and it has provided telephone service ever since.

The article added that the first floor of the Thompson Building was remodeled in 1930.

One of those remodeling projects kept Copeland from restoring the old building back to its original design. In the photo at City Hall, the building’s front door was inset from the windows and there was an awning over the front.

Although Copeland was unable to restore the inset doorway, he did find where the original awning was attached to the outside wall.

However, a utility pole is located in the sidewalk in front of the building that prevents Copeland from building a new awning. Wright said the pole belongs to Southwestern Bell and efforts are underway to have it removed.

“It’s definitely been a benefit to our Main Street District,” Wright said of the project. “I hope others will follow suit.”

Wright said probably seven or eight facade improvement projects are under consideration right now in the downtown area.

“I’m excited about it,” she said. Historical old buildings bring a lot of visitors to small towns in Texas and Beeville has many such buildings in the downtown area.
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