HURON — Flush with the success of his first renovation project, Jeff Pownell and his family has begun work to reclaim another downtown storefront.
The locally-owned POP ice cream shop in Huron completed its first year of operation last month, and business co-owner Pownell believes their success was largely due to their location – the heart of downtown Huron - within the fully-renovated former Habicht’s Department Store.
“We are so pleased with the positive community response and vibrancy that this historic building brought to our business and our customers,” Pownell said. “It exceeded our expectations. We would not have had this energy anywhere but downtown in one of these interesting old buildings.”
Building on the success of POP, the Pownells have decided to move forward with another historic rehabilitation downtown, this time at 145 Dakota Avenue.
POP co-owner Yendy Castillo is excited to once again design a contemporary business within an historic space.
“The key is combining the original character of the building to a contemporary purpose within the community. It is really more about forward thinking than historical thinking,” she said.
The two story building was originally built in 1909 as Mirras Modern Rooms and the OK Cafe. Located next door to the Great Northern train depot, the boarding house and cafe was a convenient place to eat and sleep for visitors and newcomers arriving to Huron.
Mirras Modern Rooms, originally owned by George Mirras who also owned the then popular confectionery Huron Candy Company, closed in the 1930s and ultimately reopened as the Huron Hotel in the 1940s until 1969.
Pownell describes the property as having potential, but explained that years of abandonment on the second floor and wide ranging remodels on the first floor obscure its original character, charm and economic potential.
“A false olive-colored fiberglass facade, probably very modern in the early 1970s but not timeless 50 years later, hid a dramatic set of four, eight-foot tall second-story hotel windows,” he noted.
Dropped ceilings, particle board flooring, and small room sizes on the first floor hide the original grand spaciousness and architectural details. Pownell said that hotel rooms on the second floor were mostly untouched for the last 50 years, with the brass beds, pillows, mattresses, and window coverings still in many of the rooms, and calendars from 1969 were still hung on the wall.
The office desk contained the accounting and registration sheets from the last days of the hotel. The stairs had been removed and internal access to the second floor was impossible.
“What it all created was a unique time capsule,” Pownell said. “It was really amazing seeing that it had not been touched for half a century.”
The up-front rehabilitation performed so far has been superficial, but the building shows potential to be a contributing place in downtown Huron.
“Original details important to the building’s character are being salvaged or sourced,” he said. “There are undamaged tin ceilings with only one coat of paint, unpainted Douglas fir doors and trim, 100-year old wood flooring that doesn’t squeak or sag, and wonderful linoleum from the 1940s is just waiting to be uncovered, polished and restored.”
A historically-inspired new glass storefront is in the works, due in part to the newly created Downtown Huron Facade Grant Program. “The Community is not just talking anymore, we are taking action to make things happen.” says Pownell. Gifts from the Huron Community Foundation and administration by Greater Huron Development Corporation created the façade program.
The Habicht’s Department store was listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior for its art deco styling and contribution to local commerce. It is the only commercial building in downtown Huron listed on the National Register.
“When I moved back to Huron in 2019, there were early plans to demolish this building along with several other century-old properties downtown. They weren’t being used commercially and many suffer significant deterioration,” Pownell said. “This National Register Listing will prevent that destruction from ever happening to the Habicht’s building. In fact, now we are legally obligated to care for its future.”
Powell noted that many buildings in downtown Huron are currently vacant, making them at best, difficult and expensive to put back in service, and at worst putting them at risk for demolition.
“Right now, we have this unique timing to create a vibrant downtown since our main street, Dakota Avenue, will be completely torn-up and rebuilt in 2024.”
The Pownell family sees this as an opportunity for the community to rally as a whole and take action now to revitalize downtown.
Pownell summarized the challenge of restoring POP and the Huron Hotel simply. “The “historic and urban” attributes of the building are what make it unique and so special, but yet these are the same attributes that make rehabilitation so difficult.”