Stunning Transformation

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Greg Anderson renovated the former Elkader Dry Cleaners for artist- Arthur Geisert.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

One of the most stunning transformations of a downtown property is a building not included in Elkader’s façade restoration project.

The former Elkader Dry Cleaners, located at 116 North Main Street, was painstakingly restored over the course of several months. New owner Arthur Geisert hired local contractor Greg Anderson, owner of Anderson Construction Company, to do the work.

Geisert knew about the city’s renovation project and he was adamant about returning the structure to its original look, Anderson said.

Buildings on the east side of Main Street weren’t eligible for participation in the façade program because they are in the flood plain. Elkader Economic Development Director Roger Thomas has since secured funds to help property owners improve the exteriors on that side of the street.

Anderson, who has been in construction for almost 40 years—22 with another builder and 15 on his own—ranks this project as one of the most challenging he’s ever done.

“The location made the work challenging because it has such limited accessibility,” he explained. “Everything had to go in and out the front door—not just materials but also (Arthur’s) equipment, including his copper press.”

According to the Clayton County Assessor’s office, the building now owned by Geisert was likely built around 1890 for G.M. Gifford. The original purpose of the building is not known though it’s believed it housed newspaper offices from 1893 to 1926. From the ‘30s until just recently, it was a dry cleaning business.

The building has 2,400 square feet on each of its two stories, and Anderson is pretty sure he’s touched every square inch. 

“All ceilings and floors had to be straightened, and we moved the staircase,” Anderson said. “One of the biggest challenges was the deck. We replaced the existing two-story wood frame with a three-story steel frame. It’s sturdy; that deck’s not going anywhere.”

Anderson said his client was involved in most aspects of the project. Geisert often showed up with decorative glass and accent pieces that he wanted incorporate into the building. For example, Geisert found two skylights that he liked and asked Anderson to put one on the roof and the other in the floor of his second-story studio looking down into his living space at the rear of the first floor. He also acquired two massive lamps that once set atop streetlights in Milwaukee. He wanted one hung upside-down from the second-floor ceiling; the other is on the deck. Geisert keeps it on all night to serve as a beacon to people crossing the bridge.

The skylight on the roof and new windows bathe the interior in natural light, and provide a breath-taking view of the Turkey River, Keystone Bridge and courthouse clock tower.

“It was a dungeon before we added the extra windows,” Anderson said.

When the exterior of the building was removed, it revealed an elaborate cornice with fan designs. Few pictures of the original building exist so the cornice, which is consistent with the overall Italianate design, was a pleasant surprise.

For many reasons, Anderson is pleased with the end results—and he should be. The craftsmanship is unparalleled and the decorative touches are unique.

“It’s a good example of what can be done to restore an old building,” Anderson said. “I think it has a lot of character.”

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