Historians save plaster frescoes at downtown Belleville building

News-DemocratAugust 12, 2013 

"You can't save everything," a historian in Missouri once told me, while she was watching a old hotel being torn down.

But preservationists did manage to save a couple of things from the old Peskind store in downtown Belleville, now being converted to become part of Ben's Crafts & Florals.

Gone is the free-standing glassed-in display case in the front of what was at various times I. Peskind & Sons, Dollus Bros. Shoes and the Twice Nice Shop.

Still there but covered up are the terra cotta details on the outside of the building and the glass prism windows above the storefront. They are available if by some chance they could ever be restored.

But what the restoration buffs love are the newly discovered and refurbished pair of frescoes, or plaster panels, with an ornate letter "P" for Peskind on each.

The panels had been hidden behind walls for years and were discovered when remodeling began recently on the building. Ben's owner, John Conkright, said he knew he couldn't save the front of the store because it was just too expensive and would never make city building code. But he huddled with people from the Belleville Historical Society to see whether they could restore the panels.

The panels had a lighting system with sconces that he also hoped to save. But they were too deteriorated for rescue.

Restorers Dave Wiesen and Suzy McDaniel scraped away the old paint, grime and a thick layer of coal dust (from the old heating system) and discovered the original colors of the panels that now are flanked by glass shelves on either side. They painted the panels.

It isn't a perfect outcome, but it does save something from the 1926 building that Peskind built for his department store.

While preservationists want to save it all, local historian Robert Brunkow said, Conkright made some decisions that preservationists appreciate.

"We do have some artifacts from that period, which was a time when people wanted to show how excited they were about Belleville and downtown," he said.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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