Feldman’s renovation restores link to Salisbury history

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When renovation of Feldman’s Furniture Store is complete, another modernized building, steeped in historic flavor, will dot Salisbury’s enhanced cityscape.

River View Commons, now under construction, is being built on land that, for more than 125 years, has been a familiar landmark.

The 19th-century structure, remembered for its signature display windows and brick segmental arches, is undergoing transition to a multi-use building.

Once it’s finished, in spring 2015, there will be space for a restaurant, gallery or shops on the first floor, offices on the second floor and additional offices or residences above.

Palmer Gillis, who bought it for $5,000 with co-owners Dwight Miller and J.B. Barnes, said for some time his goal has been to “clean up that eyesore that I have been looking at for 30 years.”

“There’s a lot to be done,” he recently told the Salisbury Independent. “Prune the size, it’s done; get a permit, it’s pending; and create retail and office space with a public river walk  extension from Main (Street) to the Camden Street Bridge’s headwall. So, one more piece of the puzzle to put into place,” he said.

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Currently, the roof is being replaced and walls reinforced. The city has upgraded bulk heading.

The floor was so bad that is was removed and replaced “with compacted fill to fill in the 4-foot crawl space,” Palmer Gillis said.

In recent months, he’s been determining how dilapidated the roof and roof structure were, and learned they had to be replaced.

“We essentially bought four brick walls and some land,” he said.

Examining the building to determine the extent of renovation proved interesting, Gillis said, recalling, “We went from oyster shells to brick to a few layers of black top in the street” when the water tap was installed for a sprinkler system.”

An old conveyor belt was unearthed, as were bottles from long ago.

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Palmer Gillis’ son, Bradley, of Sperry Van Ness-Miller Commercial Real Estate, represented the buyers. Although the new owners only paid $5,000 for the building, it wasn’t a bargain, considering its condition, he said.

“Saying they bought a building is an understatement. They brought in everything new. It will be like a new building,” he said.

There are plans to build a river walk along the Wicomico River and Mill Street, an area from which to look at the water and be in walking distance to restaurants and offices.

“Any time you have the opportunity to maintain an historical structure, you should take it,” Brad Gillis said, adding the Feldman building is “extremely important to Downtown Salisbury and has a long history there.”

It certainly does.

Dating back to 1888, it was built as a two-story warehouse. The Victorian storefront “included large glass display windows, raised brick segmental arches, and ornamental iron crest that incorporated the firm’s name,” according to the history, provided by Palmer Gillis.

Situated on 20,000 square feet of land, it has four structures equaling 40,000 square feet. The main three-story building has historic roots. The wholesale grocer who traded there was B.L. Gillis, Palmer Gillis’ uncle from five generations past, making it particularly important to honor the historical value.

A gasoline-powered elevator was contained in a small structure on the south side, and moved between the original two floors. The building was raised to three stories during the next decade, and in the 1920s the façade facing Dock Street was changed to the Tudor Revival style “with Flemish bond brickwork, limestone corners, window facings and a decorative coat of arms, transformed the red brick façade,” according to the history.

Allison A. Gillis bought the property in May 1890 and owned it until he died in 1913. His two daughters inherited it and retained the title to the property until 1923.

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Peninsula Motor Co. was there, with 40 cars on display in the showroom.

Then, in 1923, the property was transferred to Samual S. and William Feldman. They developed the Feldman’s Brothers furniture business that they began in 1906.

By the mid-1930s, it was well-known as one of the largest furniture stores in the region.

“River Walk Commons will have a positive effect on downtown and our community,” Brad Gillis said.

“It’s a keystone property with high visibility on Mill Street and Market Street. I think it’s pretty crucial to the downtown success to be such a poster child.  It’s a high visibility building.”

 

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