Many readers already know that the building was remodeled for use as a JC Penney Store in the early 1940s. After JC Penney moved to the Paul Bunyan Mall in 1977, the building evolved a couple more times, becoming a restaurant, hardware store, and finally Headwaters Science Center in 1993. Our building has a number of interesting features; one is the stairway for the 2nd floor apartments of the building to the south of us that hangs into the Science Center. When it is very quiet in the building you can hear the tenants going up and down their stairs, and it sounds like people are in our building. It’s very unnerving the first time you hear it!
We get this space back from the store to the north by way of a room in the basement with an old boiler furnace under the back of the store, accessible only from the Science Center. The old furnace was reputed to heat a number of the buildings on this side of the alley, a common thing in early days. This building in its reincarnation as a JC Penney store was made out of three buildings. The north building was torn down to the basement level and rebuilt from the ground up. The other two were combined at the ground floor level, but the basements were never consolidated beyond having openings to go between them. It makes for an interesting labyrinth of rooms and floor levels and some very challenging lighting.
The grading of the alley has changed over the years behind the building; the alley is now 2 1/2 ft above the main floor level. At one time the alley was low enough to have windows in the basement (the glass now looks out at dirt) and what appears to be a door, going outside up to alley level, is now bricked in.
A number of people have said that they remember the hot air heaters blowing in the entryway of JC Penney. The massive heaters are still there, but lack hot water from the long cold boiler to heat the air. In all there are many places in the building where time has stood still since at least the early 1940s if not before. Management of old construction is an interesting challenge and keeps us busy with tasks that the public might not see.