Perspectives on Preservation: Cheryl Brooks

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In retrospect I guess I started becoming a preservationist in high school. That is when I learned how to refinish furniture in Home Economics class.  For many years I’ve “rescued” pieces of furniture during the city-wide clean-up days and restored them to their former glory. I appreciate the quality of these exceptional works of art.

When I first heard that the Jackson County Commissioners were considering tearing down the former high school, I didn’t take it seriously. I mean that was a crazy idea, tearing down that perfectly good building. For the next 8 years I read about the citizens committees and the petitions that were presented to the county board to find alternative uses or renovations of the structure. I thought that with all these people objecting to the county’s plan that the building would not be demolished. I attended my first county board meeting in February of 2010 but I was too timid to speak up.

One of my high school classmates, Cathy Buxengard told me she had submitted an application to a group I hadn’t heard of before called the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota for consideration of its’ 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list. In early May 2010 it was announced that the building was voted one of the 10. Cathy, I, and a third classmate, Jane Morris, attended the Anti-Wreaking Ball. We met many other people that were anxiously trying to preserve a remarkable structure too. We were impressed by the PAM staff and were offered so much information and practical advice. On the way home we decided to form a group and call it the Jackson Preservation Alliance. A couple of weeks later a county-wide vote took place as a result of another petition. The official wording of the ballot question was, “Shall the County of Jackson, Minnesota, be authorized to issue its general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $5,195,000 to defray the expense of the construction of a new county services building?” They failed to get enough votes to issue the bonds.  Cathy, Jane and I weren’t sure this would be the end of the issue and we were right. In July the county voted to use reserve capital improvement funds to destroy the building and just build a smaller one. I was so angry; I and scores of others felt they completely disregarded the votes of the people. In August the JPA held the first public meeting with great success, even the local radio and newspaper covered it. It showed me we had great support from the community and that we weren’t alone. From all over the US, former Jackson residents sent money to pay for a lawsuit in an effort to try to save the old school, but the judge didn’t see it our way. Our school was demolished in January of this year. A cherished landmark is no more. If those on the previous citizen committees had known about PAM and its’ resources, the outcome would have been different. County officials would have been educated on preservation and all the financial and environmental benefits before their minds were made up.

The Jackson Preservation Alliance is now focusing on another historic gem, The Historic State Theater. It is a classic “Art Deco” design built in the 1920’s with a single silver screen and still has the orchestra pit. It is privately owned but the owners need $75,000 to upgrade to digital. This time we are being pro-active and trying to save it before it gets sold to someone who will tear it down. I know now that there are lots of others that recognize the value of old things besides stuff in an antique store and are willing to go into battle for them.  I no longer wait to see what happens. I am an advocate in saving the riches of the past and I’m no longer too timid to speak up. I guess I just needed to get angry.

Cheryl Brooks

JPA President

Built in the 1920’s the Historic State Theatre is located in Historic Downtown Jackson MN, and is an “Art Deco” classic single silver screen cinema.

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