- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) - The building on the corner of Lincolnway and Franklin Street that housed Martin Binder Jeweler is a structural link to the city’s past, its new owner said, and so he’s going to invest in restoring its vintage charm.

Chuck Welter, of Valparaiso First Insurance, a 24-year president of the former First National Bank, purchased the building in April after Martin Binder Jeweler relocated to U.S. 30.

Martin Binder’s former store served customers for seven decades on the building’s first floor. Welter plans to move his insurance business into the building and he hopes to attract several others as well.

Renovation and restoration is ongoing, and during work on the basement, a doorway and several windows were discovered that today would open into the soil well below Franklin Street.

Based on photos and placement, Welter believes people were able to descend stairs along Franklin Street to what were shops in the basement. The basement also has retained tin walls and a row of benches from another era. In the center of the room is a wooden structure that Welter believes was once a sauna.

Workers are also removing material along that side of the building and exposing the original brick. The cornice - decorative molding that once crowned the building - will be brought back, Welter said.

Old photos also show drape awnings along the building - something else Welter might bring back.

“We hope (others) may do it again if we do it in a fashion that is representative,” he told The Times of Munster (http://bit.ly/1xdpw8l ).

During renovation workers discovered several Valparaiso artifacts, including an old theater ticket and a Morse code card that Welter believes shows a room in the building was used to communicate with trolleys that came to and from Gary.

“I really think this building has certain characteristics from an era that was important to Valparaiso,” Welter said. “This is a large project that takes a lot of effort. I think the town will be proud of this.”

The second and third floors of the building house apartments, one of which Welter is having completely renovated.

Welter said he is doing the work without any city assistance such as grants or tax abatement, calling what he’s doing to his building “a contribution.”

Porter County Museum executive director Kevin Pazour provided Welter with some of the old pictures of the building and called what he’s doing “utterly fantastic.”

“Historic buildings often have incredible character that has unfortunately been stripped away over time,” Pazour said. “Chuck is not simply updating the structure, but rejuvenating it.”

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Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com

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