KEVIN LEININGER: New Hall’s restaurant in downtown Fort Wayne will repeat history — twice

Steel beams will be placed under the Cambray Building before the future Hall's Restaurant is moved across the street later this month. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel)
Bud Hall inspects the second floor of the building. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel)
An employee of Wolfe House & Building movers prepares the basement in preparation for the impending move. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel)
The "shed" on the building's exterior has been removed. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Once-hidden architectural features will be prominently displayed once the building is converted into a restaurant and bar. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel)
Kevin Leininger

For Bud Hall, creation of the family chain’s latest Fort Wayne restaurant may not be quite as daunting as it seems because it represents a double case of deja vu.

“I bought that old train station in ’76 and we restored it,” Hall said as he gazed across the St. Mary’s River at the Victorian-era Cass Street train depot that was a rundown wreck at the time but is now home to the Fort Wayne Outfitters, a recreational equipment store. The reference was appropriate, because Hall was standing in front of the 122-year-old brick two-story building at 312 S. Harrison St. he plans to convert into a trendy downtown hot spot in the next year or two.

Not at that location, though — which represents an even more unusual example of history repeating itself.

Because it sits on land needed for riverfront development, the former Cambray building had been slated for demolition. Instead, it soon will be lugged across the street by Wolfe House & Building Movers. And there it will sit until spring, when Hall plans to relocate the 36-by-100 structure to its permanent home at Superior and Harrison streets.

With the chain’s Gas House restaurant just down the street, Hall didn’t necessarily plan to undertake such an ambitious and expensive project — but neither does it faze him because he knows what to expect.

“I moved my own home back in the ’70s,” Hall said, remembering how he relocated his old farm house so it wouldn’t be so close to the road. This project will be far more complex but Hall figures it will be worth it, in more ways than one.

“It will be a challenge, but with the building’s architecture I wanted to save it even though I didn’t know what I would do with it. A ‘shed’ had been put on the front but I looked at the (roof line) and knew what was there.” he said. The ugly addition has now been removed in preparation for the move, revealing the intricate brick work around doors and windows Hall correctly believed were worthy of both salvation and restoration.

The interior may be another story. As a former office building on the ground floor and apartments above, many of the interior walls will have to be removed. But Hall plans to accentuate the exposed brick walls and heavy wooden beams. The original windows will be kept but upgraded. The planned elevated deck will offer a unique view of the soon-to-be developed riverfront.

That and similar downtown projects helps explain why Hall is willing to risk so much on this project, which he insists will not compete with the Gas House — a restaurant that opened in a former coal-gas plant way back in 1955 and represents the Halls’ first foray into historic preservation.

“It’s not unusual to see one owner have restaurants that close in an urban setting,” he explained. “More than $160 million is being spent on development within a few blocks (of the final location).” The people living in all those new apartments, working at those new offices and shopping at those new stores will want someplace new to eat, drink and play, he figures.

For now, though, the focus will be on Wolfe, which has offices in Pennsylvania and North Manchester and moves or elevates about 40 Hoosier buildings every year — some of them even larger and heavier than the 500-ton Cambray structure.

Workers are already excavating the foundation and building supports under the ground-level floor. Then they’ll put holes in the foundation to accept the huge steel beams that will support the structure when it is lifted eight feet and moved across the street. And before the building is moved, owner Andrew Heck said, it will be wrapped in steel cables to shore up the old brick walls.

For Heck, whose firm has moved everything from 100-foot concrete farm silos to lighthouses to historic churches, it’s all in a day’s work. But there is one unique challenge, he said: the huge steel safe that extends into the basement.

For Hall, perhaps the valuables it once protected will prove to be a good omen.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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