Above the businesses
on South Sangamon there are now 21 apartments. According to Larry
Steffens, who has developed 14 of them, there could be a lot more if
everybody who owned property on the street decided to turn the upper
stories of their businesses into living units. He estimates there
could be 46 housing units on the block between Pulaski and Broadway
[Photos by Jan Youngquist]
The newest apartment,
already rented, was remodeled by Steve and Susie Fuhrer. It’s
located above Health and Fitness Balance, also remodeled by the
Fuhrers, which is next door to Susie’s Blue Dog Inn.
The new apartment,
like many others on the block, preserves as much historic appeal as
possible. Windows the size of the originals were installed in the
foot-thick brick wall in front, providing a view of the courthouse
dome and the mural across the street. The brick has been cleaned,
tuck-pointed and sealed.
It wasn’t possible to
save the original wood floor, so the new apartment is carpeted
except for tile floors in the kitchen and bath. The apartment is a
gracious blend of old and new — the old brick wall and a brand-new
Above her Blue Dog
Inn, Susie said, the floors are in good condition, but the Fuhrers
have no plans to develop that space right now. Originally the
Illinois Hotel, the upper floors are divided into 34 small rooms and
a suite. If times get better, the Fuhrers might think about building
Dwight Smothers, who
owns Flounders, thinks he could fit eight apartments in the space
above his nightclub, but he’s not ready to do that right now,
either. He did remodel the front of his building about four years
ago and put in new floors.
"If things pick up,
we might think about making apartments upstairs," he said.
Street, Dale Bassi and partner Dr. Larry Crisafulli are completing
the last of six apartments in the building at 201-205 Sangamon. They
have also created new street-level space, which now houses a group
of new and old businesses.
Again, the developers
have kept many of the historic features, including brick walls and
hardwood floors. Two of the front apartments have lofts. All are
4,000 square feet up and another 4,000 square feet down," Bassi
said. Bassi has no concrete plans to do anything more on Sangamon
Street now, but he’s open to ideas for further development there.
In the corner
building at street level are Franz Express, with shipping and
copying services, Coffee With Einstein, and Lan Café, which offers
Internet access and gaming. To bring even more people to Sangamon
Street, Coffee with Einstein holds open mic night on Thursdays and
has live entertainment most weekends.
The newest business,
AMP Studio, is a digital photography studio owned by Adam May, whose
motto is "pictures about people."
The Steffens family
owns several businesses on the ground floor below their apartments
and rents space to two others, Closet Classics resale shop and A.
Lincoln General Store, which sells both new and consignment items.
[to top of second column in this
The family operates
Grapes and Grounds, which sells wines and specialty coffees,
Capone’s restaurant, and Eckert’s, Inc. decorating studio. Grapes
and Grounds has recently been incorporated with Capone’s.
Capone’s is giving
folks another reason to visit Sangamon Street, with a full lunch
menu Monday through Saturday and a dinner menu for the evening. It
also features live jazz or blues Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
Steffens bought the
property on the south half of the block and began developing it five
years ago. His 14 apartments include efficiencies, one-bedroom and
two-bedroom units; the largest has 1,300 square feet of space.
His own home, a
former warehouse above Closet Classics, includes 4,500 square feet
of living space on the second floor, a 500-square-foot library on
the ground floor and another 4,500 square feet in the basement.
preserved in the Steffens buildings include the oak woodwork and the
pressed tin ceiling in Eckert’s.
The Steffens family
also maintains the park between Sangamon Street and the railroad
track, and Larry painted the mural on the back of the Neal Tire
building. The mural gives tenants and visitors an idea of the
bustling place Sangamon Street was in the early history of Lincoln,
during the decade when Abe Lincoln himself christened the new town.
Many of the buildings
depicted in the mural were hotels — the Spitly Hotel, C & A House,
the Illinois Hotel, the Western Hotel and the Monroe House. Other
businesses include Dutz Paints, Boots and Shoes, and the Lincoln
Volksblatt, an early German-language newspaper.
Bassi says "living
above the store" has been a tradition in downtowns since the turn of
the last century.
"It is the best use
of downtown space in towns like Lincoln. If you bring people
downtown, you bring life downtown. There is no replacement for
bringing people here."
[Photo provided by Adam May]
[Click to enlarge]
Bassi is a member of
the Economic Restructuring Committee of Main Street Lincoln, which
has a $20,000 grant from the state to find ways to bring more
"We still need more
shops downtown. We need to point to smaller niche market stores,
specialty stores like Merle Norman. We’d like to see a shoe store or
a women’s clothing store. We won’t see another J.C. Penney store
"We need more stores like Abe’s, Beans
and Such, and Prairie Years. We are trying to find other little
businesses that can make it downtown."