Young entrepreneurs helping to make downtown Wayne a destination
Years with minimal use had left the old city hall building at Second and Pearl streets in dire need of more than just a facelift.
The building had been gifted to the Wayne Community Theater group, some years ago, but with the construction of the Majestic Theater and the immense amount of upkeep required for such a large building, it slowly started downhill.
For years, Mark Kanitz and Lukas Rix drove past the building, hating that it wasn't being used for something more than storage. Finally, the entrepreneurs decided to take matters into their own hands — putting feelers out and eventually putting an offer in on the building that hadn't been listed for sale.
One thing led to another and, viola, the two were the proud, albeit overwhelmed, owners of one of Wayne's most prominent buildings with a history steeped in the community.
When the city purchased its first fire engine in 1910, it didn't take long to realize that the previous buildings the police and firemen were operating out of weren't sufficient. The need for a central location for those entities and their equipment to be located in was crucial, so plans were made for the facility's construction, but in the midst of the planning, the location was changed.
"This building was not supposed to be built here," Rix said of the Pearl and Second street location. "The architecture actually matches the Baptist church. It was supposed to sit right across the street from that."
Thanks to a forward-thinking mayor, the location proposed was scraped and the city went forward with construction where the building sits currently.
His reasoning for doing so? Revitalization.
At the time, Wayne's railroad system was the lifeblood of the community, but Wayne State College on the hill was a major draw. There was a definite divide in the community -- the further from the tracks, the better off you must be.
"With some of the crowd that came off the trains at the time, this area was considered the lower part of town. [The building] was slated to be built further up there," Rix said of the proposed Main Street location. "But the mayor at the time said the city wasn't going to flee the areas that needed to be revitalized."
So instead of being the divider in the city, the facility was built just a block from the tracks with room for the fire department, police department, mayor's office, city council chambers and a ballroom.
The history in the building was a major draw for Kanitz and Rix, so when they delved into restorations, it was important for them to keep that history in place for years to come.
"We chose to keep the '1912 City Hall' sign on the building not only because it's built into the metal facade, but also for the preservation of history," Kanitz said.
The major remodeling project was one that Kanitz and Rix were able to tackle with friends and family for the most part, and the entrepreneurs were able to secure some financial assistance for the restoration from the Wayne City Council because the building is a historic one.
"We remodeled with one 100-watt light bulb — there was no heating or cooling, there was no plumbing that worked," Rix said.
From the original tin ceilings on the first floor to the ballroom floor on the second level, both Rix and Kanitz kept as much original as possible -- even recycling the lath pulled from the walls to use in constructing a statement wall on the second floor.
As they delved into the major project, several surprises were in store — including finding the original jail cell and one of the first pike poles used by the fire department, as well as the original cast iron sink from the second-story kitchen and original cabinetry that artfully conceal the pass-through for the kitchen out to the ballroom when it's not in use.
But one of the best finds in the building is the solid wood table on the second floor that sat through hundreds of city council meetings with members bellied-up to it as decisions were made for the city. The table, and several other pieces of furniture, was purchased thanks to a dance held at the newly-constructed city auditorium the day after it opened.
The city used the dance as a fundraiser to purchase furniture since the money raised through taxes totaled just enough to build the facility, not furnish it.
"They held a firemen's ball on Nov. 8 of 1912 to help pay for all the furniture," Rix said. "So this table would have been purchased with that money."
It's features like these that drew in Rix and Kanitz, and it's these features that make the space perfect for the product the entrepreneurs are carrying.
"The building accentuates the product because of its vintage feel — it all plays together to create that very simplistic farmhouse look, which we just happened to hit at the right time."
The grand opening weekend for the 1912 Emporium is March 24-26 with the Wayne Chamber Coffee and ribbon cutting ceremony being held Friday March 24 to kick off the event.