Renovators Try to Save 100 Year-Old Bowstring Trusses

Originally published by the following source: News Tribune (Illinois Valley)January 18, 2017

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The 100-year-old building at First and Wright streets in downtown La Salle is getting a no-holds-barred makeover.

Mike Bird of M Bird Construction and his crew are ripping out walls and floor coverings to get to the two-story building’s bones. Crews have removed 30 tons of material, Bird said.

“Somebody probably renovated this in the 1980s,” Bird said. “So this is a lot of newer construction that we’re pulling out.”

The previous owner, Mearle Daum of Mendota, transferred title to the city in exchange for the city forgiving building code violations. Bird agreed to pay off Daum’s remaining loan obligation for $10,000, and agreed to meet the city’s demand to fix major structural issues first.

Old La Salle building getting makeover by developer

Bowstring trusses

In stripping the building to its supporting structure, Bird and his crew are shoring up massive bowstring trusses supporting the curved roof on the second floor.

“These are what we’re trying to save,” Bird said. “There was actually a trellis between these beams. We removed it because it was excess weight and we had to get to the plaster.”

The trusses are made of heavy lumber and designed to support a roof over a large space without columns. Over the better part of the 20th century, bowstring roof trusses dominated large structures and were considered ideal where floor space was needed, such as for a car dealership or dance hall.

“There needs to be some work to them and some finesse to make sure they stay solid and are stabilized correctly,” Bird said. “They’re kind of a maintenance item. You have to keep your eye on them and make sure the truss continually has tension. That’s why we’re taking everything down to the bones. As soon as the weather permits we’re putting a brand new roof on everything.”

First floor retail

Eventually, Bird wants to develop apartments on the second floor. But before that, he wants to develop retail spaces on the first floor. Bird expects to have a space rented for a restaurant by May or June, he said.

On the first floor are ornate floor tiles and tin ceiling tiles. Bird hopes to create three retail spaces, each 1,600-2,000 square feet.

“The original hardwood flooring is still there. Some of the exterior walls were covered with lumber and we’re exposing those. The plaster is going to be removed so we can put new electrical infrastructure in.”

Connecting the floors is a marble staircase flanked by iron railings capped with brass handrails.

“To replicate this today would be a lot of money,” Bird said.