1920s South Bend being reborn

Author: Jessica Brookshire

As published in the South Bend Tribune on February 9, 2015

By Margaret Fosmoe, South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND —  There’s the Oliver Opera House, standing in all its glory on North Main Street in South Bend.

Just to the north is St. Joseph County Savings Bank, right next door to an early South Bend Tribune building. And a block to the north is the elaborate circa 1902 South Bend City Hall.

All these buildings were demolished decades ago, replaced with parking lots and garages.

One by one, buildings from downtown South Bend of the late 1920s are being re-created as scale models using a 3-D printer in the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture Library.

Soon there will be a tabletop display of the buildings showing several blocks of that retro downtown. It will be on public display May 22-24 during the city’s 150th anniversary celebration weekend and then at The History Museum.

“We knew we wanted to create the lost buildings of downtown South Bend,” said Jennifer Parker, head of Notre Dame’s Architecture Library.

The display will feature about 40 buildings, including some that are still standing — the Tower Building, JMS Building, and the 1855 and 1896 County Courthouses — as well as landmarks that have fallen to the wrecking ball, such as the Oliver Hotel, which was replaced with the Chase Tower.

The project is a partnership between the School of Architecture Library, Historic Preservation Commission of South Bend and St. Joseph County, and The History Museum.

“You’re able to give life to something that’s been lost,” said Phil Dudeck, a fifth-year architecture student from Goshen who graduated from Marian High School. Dudeck worked on the project in 2013, helping create maps and digital models based on old photos. He said he learned a lot about South Bend’s architecture during the work, and it gave him a greater appreciation for the city’s history.

The planners chose to focus South Bend’s downtown in the late 1920s because many of the city’s landmark buildings had been built by then, but the widespread demolitions that peaked during the urban renewal era of the 1960s and 1970s hadn’t yet started.

The project eventually will include a free website and iPad app featuring photos, interactive maps and descriptions of individual buildings, past and present. Those working on the project, including architectural students, are gathering the information from survey cards, newspaper clippings and other records in the Historic Preservation Commission office, and maps, photos and blueprints in The History Museum collection.

Using the website, people will be able to virtually “wander” the streets of long ago South Bend, examining the buildings that used to stand and comparing them to the current landscape. The planners hope to add a feature that uses virtual reality goggles to make the then-and-now views even more realistic.

“Our goal is to build resources for students and anyone else interested in the built environment,” Parker said.

The project will place a particular focus on buildings connected to two prominent industrialist families: the Olivers, who built the Oliver Hotel and the Oliver Opera House, and the Studebakers, who built the JMS Building, gave the money to build old City Hall and made other contributions to the city’s architecture.

Adam Heet, digital project specialist at the School of Architecture Library, with help from students, is handling much of the work of finalizing digital models. On his computer, he scans quickly through more than 400 historical photos and postcard images of downtown, and can call up 3-D images with a click.

The largest 3-D model printed so far is of old City Hall, which was on the east side of the 200 block of North Michigan Street. It was demolished in 1970.

Those working on the project hope it will be used by local residents and city leaders to plan future buildings.

Architectural proposals for future city development designed by Notre Dame architecture students will be included on the website. “We want to create a repository of ideas for the future,” said Elicia Feasel, HPC assistant director.

The project draws on The History Museum’s collection of photos and more than 2,000 sets of donated blueprints of buildings in the South Bend area, said Brandon Anderson, the museum’s deputy executive director. Artifacts from some of the demolished buildings will be in an exhibit, “Pieces of South Bend,” opening May 16.

Malorie Nowak, a fifth-year architecture student from Cleveland, is helping organize the digital photos and adding street addresses for the website. She said what she’s learning will come in handy during her future career as an architect.

“Notre Dame puts such an emphasis on traditional architecture. It’s an amazing experience to see how cities used to be built,” Nowak said. “It’s a great way to connect with the community.”