All Craig LaVoie wanted to do was remove the decades-old yellow-red-orange tiles and slap a more modern facade on his Largent’s Appliance store front in downtown Lewiston.
The tiles started coming off Nov. 2. Immediately, history emerged: the original round columns from the 1910 structure. The word “typewriters” was stenciled on one post, likely in the 1930s, when an office supply store was in that space, LaVoie reckons.
“It was my day off,” LaVoie recalled. “I came in, like I do on every day off. My right-hand woman Patty Wenzel came up to me. ‘Change in plans. You can’t cover that up.’”
The plaster façade that LaVoie believes dates from about 1940 was also peeled off, revealing three brick arches, one for each of three original business spaces that Largent’s now occupies. The arches, filled with windows, sat on four columns. Most of the original windows are still in place, with wavy century-old glass, LaVoie said.
“Once it was exposed, we probably had 50 people stopping in every day saying they love the appearance of the building,” LaVoie said. “All the design work we had done hit the garbage can.”
That positive public reaction could spark other historic façade restorations on the Main Street stretch from Fifth to Ninth streets, which has about eight other century-old buildings that have been covered up for years, said Laura Von Tersch, community development director at the city of Lewiston.
“It wouldn’t surprise me … if (the Largent’s façade work) stimulates other property owners to do façade restorations,” Von Tersch said. “The public support has been so great. I think it’s incredible to reveal the historic building underneath.”
Right away, LaVoie and his general contractor, Don Stewart, owner of S&S Concrete Pumping & Construction in Lewiston, rethought the game plan. They had initially planned to remove the yellow-red-orange tiles, adding a new stucco façade above, and keeping the show windows in place.
LaVoie and Stewart decided to move the storefront back four feet behind the columns and arches to create an outdoor covered foyer.
“We are going to drop a chandelier behind each of the arched windows,” LaVoie said.
The brick façade above the arches, however, will be recovered with a new coat of stucco.
“It’s not a fire-hardened brick,” he said. “It doesn’t weather well.”
The drastic design changes “supposedly” will not change the cost of the original $50,000 project, LaVoie said.
“(Stewart) assured me we will make our original price,” he said. “That remains to be seen.”
LaVoie and his brothers, Kent and Steve, are third-generation owners of Largent’s, which their grandfather, Ralph Largent, started in 1930 in one retail space at the same location. The business passed on to their parents in 1957 and Craig LaVoie took over in 1989.
LaVoie said the arches of the building had been forgotten in the community. He said he found a 1940 photo with the glass and arches but they were covered sometime around 1942 to 1945.
“That façade has been up in excess of 70 years,” he said.
LaVoie especially wanted to get rid of the red-yellow-orange tiles that resemble the garish 1970s Houston Astros baseball uniform color scheme. He said his father installed those tiles in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
“It was the era of gold and green shag,” he said.
Once the tiles were removed, the workers found dry rot and then original columns. The two central columns, however, are only half columns, as they were attached to the divider walls between store fronts.
As LaVoie is removing the walls, the renovations will make those full columns. The quarter columns at the ends will become half columns.
Largent’s has occupied all three storefronts only in recent decades. In the mid-1980’s Largent’s only occupied the center space until expanding into the neighboring space to the 1912 Roxy Theater as Renee’s women’s clothing shut down. Largent’s expanded in the other direction about a dozen years ago when Hirzel’s Music closed.