GREENFIELD — Bob Hunt knows the history of his building. He knows its origin, its many uses through the years and the story of the fire that almost burned it to the ground in 1939.
Hunt has heard the story told by local businessman Walter Worland, who woke in his bed on the second floor of the firehouse as Worland’s dad, the fire chief, prepared to fight the blaze at the Masonic Hall, located just half a block from the station. Worland’s dad put an arm around his son’s shoulder and told him to look long and hard at the three-story building because it wasn’t going to be there in the morning.
As luck would have it, Hunt recounts, many of the firemen were Masons — and the structure lived to see another day.
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“They knew the layout of the building, and they were able to get to the attic and put (the fire) out,” Hunt said.
Hunt, owner of the building — once the Masonic Building, now called the Creative Arts and Event Center — will lead a Greenfield Historic Landmarks walking tour through the building at 2 p.m. March 18. The tour will focus on the architectural importance of the structure and include stories of the building’s 122-year history.
Hunt, who grew up in Irvington, moved to Greenfield with his wife, Beverly, more than 20 years ago, bringing with them their interest in history and architecture. They served on a downtown development committee, and when they learned the building was for sale, the Hunts knew they had to buy it.
Hunt was eager to close the deal. “It’s such a treasure,” he said, “and I wanted to be the one that got to fix it up.”
The three-story building had been constructed by the Masons in 1895. The third floor was to serve as their meeting location; the second floor held office space for attorneys, insurance agents, mortgage brokers and a billiard hall called the Greenfield Commercial Club; the first floor and lower level were home to an assortment of department stores such as the J. Ward Walker Department Store and the P. N. Hirsh Department Store.
In the mid 1980s, the Masons moved into a new facility, and the county took ownership of the building. It housed — among other offices — the juvenile probation department and the family and social services administration as the county courthouse annex.
In January 2005, the Hunts took ownership of the building. Hunt didn’t have a clear vision for the future of the building, but he saw its potential.
“So much of the original historic fabric was still intact,” Hunt said. “Woodwork, doors, windows, the upstairs ballroom — the whole feeling of the building was still quite similar to when it was built in 1895.”
In 2006, the Hancock County Arts Council toured the building. The idea rippled through the group that the small rooms of the second floor could be repurposed into artist studios. Before the night was over, six of the artists on the council had committed to renting space.
“Bev and I looked at each other and said, ‘That’s what we’re going to be. We’re an art center,’” Hunt said.
Cathleen Huffman, president of Greenfield Historic Landmarks, was part of the tour that day. She and her business partners were inspired to open the CrazyLake Art House gallery on the ground floor of the Creative Arts and Event Center.
She said she believes that the renovation of the Masonic Building into the Creative Arts and Event Center was an important step in the revitalization of Greenfield and the downtown arts movement.
“We want that story to be made known to everyone,” Huffman said.
With a mission statement to encourage education and preservation of the architectural heritage of Hancock County, Greenfield Landmarks is committed to promoting awareness of the architectural character of Hancock County. The organization conducts two public education events a year, a walking or biking tour and presents historic preservation awards to groups or individuals who take on restoration projects such as churches, downtown buildings or individual homes.
The Hunts won an award for their restoration of the 2 W. Main location in October 2005.
Hunt, who learned of the building’s history from local historians and written histories of the Masonic Lodge will share his stories during the March 18 tour that will include Huffman.
“When you understand the history of a building, you’re more likely to appreciate it,” Huffman said.
Who: Greenfield Landmarks
What: Walking tour of the Creative Arts and Event Center
When: 2 p.m. March 18
Where: 2 W. Main St.
This event is free, but donations for Greenfield Landmarks will be accepted. The tour will last approximately 60 minutes
For more information, email Cathleen@crazylake.com