Historic preservation takes many forms
If we can’t save all the old buildings in Southeast Texas, at least we can save the bricks sometimes. That’s what happened to the Night’s Uniform building in downtown Beaumont. The store on Crockett Street operated for 93 years.
New owner Stony Petit initially wanted to keep the building standing. It wasn’t structurally sound, however, so it had to come down. But Petit, a Beaumont homebuilder, recognized the value of the materials at the site. He knew that those worn bricks and wooden beams could be repurposed in modern construction. They have a look and character that’s hard to duplicate with new materials — and appreciated more and more.
So the old building was taken down carefully, often by hand, and parts of its walls, floors and ceilings will find new homes.
That fate is better than heading for a landfill, which happens all too often to the remnants of old construction in Southeast Texas. A building that might have been saved isn’t. It may seem easier and cheaper to knock something apart and start with a clean lot — and throw up a metal building. One by one, they disappear. Once the walls come down, it’s gone forever, surviving perhaps in photographs if someone bothered to take those — or save them.
Most cities in the region have organizations that care about our history, and that’s a worthy endeavor in our fast-paced, high-tech society. We’re usually focused on moving forward and creating something new. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s the way cities grow. But something from our grandparents’ time can get overlooked in that process.
The good news is that historic preservation can take many forms. Sometimes, a building is changed from, say, a church to a store. Sometimes an old house is transformed into a bed-and-breakfast. If nothing else, the bricks and beams can be salvaged to live on in another structure. The people who see and touch those rough surfaces will understand that this isn’t new construction, that something from yesterday has been rescued for at least a few more years.
Old buildings won’t save themselves. People who care about their heritage do that. All it requires is vigilance and a sense of history. Not every structure can or should be kept. But none of the worthy ones should vanish because someone didn’t think about the options, and try one more time to preserve a piece of our past.