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Thread: Galena

  1. #1
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Galena

    I took a trip to Galena, IL this weekend. I don't have any pictures to post right now but if you are familiar with Galena you know almost the entire Main Street is fully intact with original front facades.

    My question is this: most small towns in the Midwest experienced a rebirth of their downtowns in the 1950's after WWII. This usually meant tearing off at least the first floor of older buildings and replacing it with something new for the era. We now look back and realize how ugly and bland they are compared to what was built originally. What were the factors that allowed Galena's buildings to retain their storefronts? If you go through any small town in the Midwest you'll see metal or glass siding, utilitarian windows where ornate Italian windows once stood. Clearly there wasn't just a rejuvenation effort in Galena because that would cost way too much money. It's almost as if economic "progress" forgot about Galena and now the city is better for it. Does anyone know this history?
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Here a photo thread I did of Galena in 2005

    To my understanding, basically, Galena was a sleepy backwater for much of 19th and 20th centuries and was not really "discovered" until the 1960s/1970s. By that time, the City had missed the "improvements" common in traditional downtowns in the middle of the 20th century. There is a term "preservation through poverty" - meaning that because there was no "market" need or sometimes even money to "update" the building facades, the historical facades were defacto "preserved".

    Though, one would have to presume that there was certainly significant modifications of original facade designs and restorations of facades to an extent - for example the two buildings in the foreground on the left side of the photo below:



    Regardless, it is a remarkably intact/preserved mid-late 19th century commercial streetscape. Something the New Urbanists drool over.
    Last edited by mendelman; 23 Jul 2013 at 11:20 AM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    Being fron Illinois, I've been there a few times and I think Mendelman hit it on the head. It was pure "luck" that it got "discovered" relatively late in the 20th century, by which time there was already a reasonably sufficient preservation movement in effect once tourists started to find it. By the way, not sure if you went to Dubuque, IA also, but it's a bigger town right on the Mississippi about 10 miles from Galena that also has a lot of charm, even if not quite as well preserved as Galena is.

    Dubuque
    "When life gives you lemons, just say 'No thanks'." - Henry Rollins

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Midori's avatar
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    The first and only time I went to Galena was my honeymoon. Spent 4 days in a wonderful cottage. One of the keepers, a perky young guy named Matthew, made breakfast every morning from local ingredients (many grown on-site). He also cooked for one of the restaurants downtown. Good memories!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jameshansenbc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    To my understanding, basically, Galena was a sleepy backwater for much of 19th and 20th centuries and was not really "discovered" until the 1960s/1970s. By that time, the City had missed the "improvements" common in traditional downtowns in the middle of the 20th century. There is a term "preservation through poverty" - meaning that because there was no "market" need or sometimes even money to "update" the building facades, the historical facades were defacto "preserved".
    I've wondered about whether this was a common thing before, as I've noticed this before. Both Columbia St in New Westminster and Gastown in Vancouver, were (and arguably still are) impoverished areas with drug problems and both have some of the best preserved heritage buildings in the metro area. The areas are improving now since there is more of an influx now due to people going there to see the buildings, but Gastown remains part of the Vancouver downtown eastside, home to the poorest postal codes in Canada.

    Galena looks alright, perhaps a bit too "Englishy" for my tastes, but nice none the less. Elgin, IL is more up my alley in terms of the style I like, though I haven't seen a huge amount of Illinois to decide which place has the nicest downtown.

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