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Landmark building patched up

Nathan and Brad Leonhardt are restoring the 118 E. Main St building that used to be the First National Bank. They fixed the crumbling facade that was raining debris and soon the sidewalk will be safe again. James Card Photo

Sidewalk to reopen soon

By James Card

There is no longer any danger of walking down Main Street and getting conked in the head by falling debris.

After taking over the 118 E. Main St. building a couple days after his surprise announcement at a recent common council meeting, Brad Leonhardt immediately set up scaffolding and went to work.

There were two spots that were crumbling near the corners. Up near the roof, Leonhardt found a squirrels’ nest and some rotted wood.

He learned that improper drainage off the sloped roof was causing the problem. The protective layer of tin rotted away over the years and water went behind the bricks. The water would freeze in the winter and push the mortar and bricks outwards.

“I took anything that was loose and damaged and re-bricked everything. It’s not perfect because there were repairs done in the past that interfered with me trying to put it back to where it was originally but it’s all stable. It’s all stable and solid and it’s not going anywhere. There’s no imminent danger of anything falling down anymore. That’s not even a possibility,” said Leonhardt.

Layers of bricks

Leonhardt said that since the building was a bank, it was originally built with high standards. There are five layers of brick on the front and three layers on the sides.

“Once you fix it, it will be fine for another 100 years,” he said.

He also fixed the arch on the second floor window.

“That was in bad shape. That one took me a little while because I had to support the bricks as I took them apart so the rest wouldn’t fall and collapse,” said Leonhardt.

The large arched window on the first floor is partially covered with out-of-place vinyl siding. That will be removed and the large window will be opened up again. On the small arched window above the door, he would like to see some stained glass going in there.

Leonhardt expects the sidewalk to be opened back up in a week or so depending on the weather. It is safe to walk under now but he needs to keep the scaffolding up to finish some flashing work.

Signs revealed

Besides fixing the headache-from-above masonry problems, he also removed a piece of tin above the doorway that revealed a four-letter word. BANK is engraved into the stone and it has not been seen in years.

Leonhardt pulled up a black-and-white postcard image from the Wisconsin Historical Society. It is a 1905 street-view image of the building. The BANK engraving is there and lettering on the large front window reads “First National Bank.”

On the second floor window there is lettering that reads “Dr. Keyes.” He was there until 1913 and he sold it to another doctor. Later it was a dentist office.

The first floor started as a bank and later it was a photography studio. The last tenant was the Thomas Bennett accounting firm.

There are clues as to how long the building has remained vacant. A 2009 calendar still hangs on the wall.

The building is mostly empty other than a few filing cabinets, an old typewriter, copy machine and large tomes of the U.S. Tax Code. There are some old financial documents he intends to burn and destroy.

The basement is a mess but he found the walls to be strong and solid. The basement still holds the vault. It’s has three feet of brick on the outside and a metal ceiling. It’s missing the door.

Interior discoveries

Leonhardt’s greatest discovery was the furnace from 2009. It was almost like brand new and barely used.

On the second floor there is a skylight that leaked water at one time until the roof was repaired. He walked the rafters and found everything solid. On one corner he replaced some new bricks, added some beams and re-pointed the mortar. He intends to cover the brick walls and have it insulated so someday it might make a comfortable living space.

He might leave a bare brick wall on the interior wall he shares with his neighbor, Tim Litscher.

“Tim’s been great. He’s been very helpful and he lets me use water and stuff like that. His building is old, too, but I think the wall between the two is fine. When two buildings are pushed together they get pretty sturdy,” said Leonhardt.

As of now, his only plan is to turn the upstairs into a loft apartment with modern standards of construction with an old feel to it. As for the downstairs, he is unsure of what it will become.

“My whole objective is to have a nice-looking building in downtown. There isn’t a lot of buildings that have a lot of character in this town, there is some but this is one of the more exciting looking buildings and that’s why I wanted to save it,” said Leonhardt.

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