- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2008

SALISBURY, Md. (AP) | Vintage buildings near Salisbury have architectural creativity and a visual signature that could never be recreated given modern construction costs and beliefs, real estate agents say.

Replacing buildings from the early 1900s that have maintained structural integrity would cost three times as much to build today, real estate agent John McClellan says.

“You cannot, realistically, afford to build another old City Hall building or Fire Station No. 16 exactly the way the originals are built,” he says. “The architectural details and quality is not economically feasible to reproduce in today’s market.”

Mr. McClellan says the Eastern Shore town’s old City Hall building, dating to the 1890s, is a bargain at $750,000.

“It would cost two-three times that to rebuild it as it is,” he says.

Real estate agent Henry Hanna says: “There is no way to replace these buildings with their level of architectural elements at the price these buildings are selling for.”

In addition, the owner of a commercial business or firm in a historic building can take advantage of the distinctive appearance to help customers and clients remember their business instead of other companies operating in a less-stylish structure.

“These buildings have a certain charm because of their history and architecture,” Mr. Hanna says. “For example, there’s the old Salisbury National Bank building on the Downtown Plaza. It’s a great building, has a powerful appearance and is well-known to generations of locals.”

Says Mr. McClellan: “These buildings are unique, one of a kind. The buyer has something that sets his business apart from others.”

Architect Ernie Olds, a principal with Becker-Morgan Group, ties the quality and hidden value of historic buildings to the craftsmanship, not the cost. But modern construction has changed its focus and no longer treasures a building’s appearance.

“There was a genuine pride of workmanship that existed in these trades,” Mr. Olds says. “In the old days, to ask a builder or craftsman to cut corners or do the job quicker was against their nature. I don’t think we will ever again see the day when all public buildings are built to the craftsman’s level of the past. There just isn’t the kind of money available to put into new structures what it would require to reach that degree of details that was so common a century ago.”

George Chevallier, president of the Wicomico County Historical Society, says period architecture should be saved - not just because of what it offers for the future but because of the stories it holds from the past.

“The former Union Railroad Station, built in 1913-14, operated with passenger service until the late 1950s,” he says. “The first ticket agent was Raleigh Hastings, former city mayor. He sold the first and the last passenger tickets.”

But it isn’t just a town’s history that’s recorded inside a building’s four walls.

For Mr. Hanna, part of his memories exist in Salisbury’s historic buildings - particularly the former Salisbury City Hall.

“When it served as the city police department, I spent one Halloween evening in the downstairs holding cell,” he says with a laugh. “I was with some other boys - who became Salisbury leaders - who were out wandering around on Halloween in the Middle Boulevard neighborhood looking like we could cause trouble. We were the hoodlums of our day. Chief Chatham took mercy on me and asked Sgt. Barnett to please drive me home because it was obvious my parents were never coming to pick me up.”

Stories and memories only add to the buildings’ individual worth, grounded in their solid structure and notable designs, to create real estate that will never be repeated.

“With modern construction costing about $200 or $250 a square foot to build, if you are buying it for less than that, you are getting quite a deal because the $200 figure wouldn’t get you the level of detail on the old City Hall,” Mr. Olds says.

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