Painting it black was mistake, co-owner of planned State Street coffee shop says

April 4, 2019

The co-owner of a planned coffee shop in Downtown Madison said she mistakenly thought she didn’t need the city’s permission to paint the brick and stone outside of the 135-year-old building — a move that sparked shock among some residents and local preservationists.

The black paint was applied to the former Sacred Feather hat shop at 417 State St. on March 19, and removed a few days later under city order. Mallory Orr, the co-owner of the building’s future tenant, Grace Coffee Co., said the removal doesn’t appear to have damaged the facade.

Madison housing inspection supervisor Kyle Bunnow, however, said, “The removal efforts have had an impact on the stone and brick facade so it would not be accurate to say there was no damage.”

But “the impact has been minimal compared to the potential damage that could have occurred.”

The building is not designated historic by the city, state or federal governments, but is in a city urban design district that requires property owners to get permission from the Urban Design Commission before making changes.

Orr said the building’s owner, listed as SCK Investment of Fitchburg in city property records, gave her and her business partner permission to seek a permit from the city to paint the building.

“We carefully researched the Madison city website and found nothing that said we were required to get a permit,” she said. “We had no intention of breaking any rules.”

Penalty possible

Bunnow said some wood on the front of the building was painted black as well, but the commission might allow that. City building inspector George Hank said a fine in the case has not been ruled out.

“We want to see where we end up when the removal/cleaning is finished,” Hank said in an email. “The painted wood trim will still need to be addressed.”

SCK bought the building about a year ago. The company’s agent, Xianjing “Christine” Shan, declined to discuss the building in a brief phone call Wednesday.

“I don’t want to talk about it, but thank you for your call,” she said before the line went dead.

Sense of history

The building at 417 State is one of the last structures built as homes on State Street. It housed the Sacred Feather for 48 years before its closing last year.

Its painting last month spurred city Landmarks Commission chairman Stuart Levitan to raise the possibility of including the property in a larger State Street historic district.

It’s not a new idea. The area was deemed eligible for national historic status in the mid-1990s, but never implemented after property owners objected to the plan.

The city’s2012 Downtown plan recommends consideration of national and local districts for State Street. The first would make tax credits available for building preservation; the latter is more “focused on property protections,” according to city preservation planner Heather Bailey, and would come with more regulation.

Orr said they hope to open Grace Coffee this month. They painted the front black because “we wanted to go with kind of a trendy color.” She said the business is aimed at college students and other young people and will have a lot of black and white for its color scheme.

She said the business will offer food but not alcohol, and that it is not affiliated with any other coffee businesses in the United States with the same name.