By Julia Purdy
RUTLAND—Workers are nearing the finish line to remove the false front siding from the Clement Building at the corner of West Street and Merchants Row. For several weeks, the sidewalk has been cordoned off and, high overhead, Kevin and Joseph Lafaso of Mike Balestra Building & Remodeling, working from a cherrypicker, have been removing the siding piece by piece, revealing rows of windows hidden for decades.
Michelle Bailey, office assistant at MKF Properties, which owns the Clement Building, said the building has been gutted above the ground floor to house up to 40 graduate students and upperclassmen of Castleton University. All systems are new, including a new elevator, a sprinkler system, HVAC, insulation and windows.
Four decades ago, the 19th century brick downtowns throughout New England were considered a visual blight, and Rutland was no exception. The ornate trims, brackets and finishes were “modernized”—hidden behind sheets of aluminum or steel siding in pastel colors (turquoise was a favorite) with store names in swooping calligraphy across their fronts. Later came experiments with faux cedar shingles and fake brick veneer for the rustic look.
The Opera House and its neighbors were once covered with such siding, which owner Mark Foley, Jr., has removed to reveal their distinctive period styles, and now the Clement Building, 121 West St. in Rutland, is emerging from its sheathing. All the upper windows were hidden behind a solid curtain of cream-colored steel paneling, accented at intervals with full-height white columns and topped with a classical cornice. The “columns,” which appeared real, turned out to be made of Styrofoam with a coating of stucco.
“I’m thrilled to be able to turn this forgotten space into a key element of Rutland’s rebirth, and the energy revolution at its heart,” said Foley in a statement last March.
The sidewalk level, which houses the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Rutland Partnership and Little Harry’s Restaurant, will remain unchanged.
The Rutland Downtown Historic District lists the Clement Building as built about 1895. The older generations of Rutlanders remember it as the Ross-Huntress dress factory, followed by a series of women’s clothing stores from 1919 to the mid-1930s. Central Vermont Public Service—Green Mountain Power’s predecessor—occupied the ground floor for 20 years, from 1936-1956, with offices and a salesroom displaying the new electric-powered washing machines and spin dryers, among other modern appliances.
The upper floors contained offices and eventually the Rutland Business College, which existed for at least 100 years, closing in 1989. One of the college classes posed for a photograph in front of the West Street entrance, then labeled “Quinn Building.”
Now, with the restoration work on the exterior and student housing inside, the Clement Building has come full circle—and then some.
By Julia Purdy
Kevin and Joseph Lafaso wave from their cherrypicker as they work to remove panels and decorative columns from the Clement Building in downtown Rutland.