Kenosha, Wisconsin is among the countless towns and cities that are fighting to rebuild and revitalize downtown areas that were once lively centers of retail and commerce. Mention “The Barden Building” to Kenosha residents and many can recall fond memories of shopping at the iconic department store. Built around the turn of the 20th century, the building was the premier retail location in town up until the mid-1980’s when Barden’s Department store relocated across the street and ultimately wound up closing its doors. The building has been mostly vacant since around 1985 with a few short-term tenants coming and going.
It was in the spirit of revitalization that the Witico Development Corporation took on the project at “The Barden”. Kenosha-based Witico was established over 30 years ago by brothers Gary and Terry Thomas. They’ve operated over the course of that time as a general contractor, construction designers, and real estate investors, specializing in commercial improvement projects. However- this was their first exploration into the world of historic restoration. The timing was right, and the project allowed Witico to focus on a project that was much closer to home than they were used to. Witico acquired the building from the city of Kenosha early in 2019 and over the course of about 20 months it turned a dilapidated downtown building with good bones into what’s sure to become a bustling community hub.
One of the building’s most notable features is the second story display windows that line the south and west facing sides of the building. The windows measure 110” tall, with varying widths. In their original state the windows could be lifted and pivoted in order to allow for air flow throughout the second floor of the building. It was in the process of repairing these windows and the surrounding frames that Gary Thomas was introduced to Abatron products.
Abatron’s LiquidWood® and WoodEpox® products are continually specified for historic restoration projects, but it’s rare that we are lucky enough to identify a project in our own community and follow the process from start to finish. Gary allowed us to tour the project site, demonstrate epoxy repair techniques and follow the window repairs as the project progressed.
In addition to using epoxies for the window and frame repairs, Witico utilized Abatron’s paint stripper, Clearstrip™ in the process of stripping and repainting the wood. It also utilized ABOCRETE™, a self-leveling epoxy concrete patching material, for repairs on the first floor terrazzo.
Aside from Abatron repairs, Witico encountered quite a few unique challenges throughout the course of the project. The egresses needed updates in order to comply with current building codes. A new elevator was required. The east wall of the building (which included 3 different types of bricks) wound up requiring extensive plaster removal, brick replacement, and re-tuckpointing. Balancing the requirements of each of these jobs while complying with the regulations of both state and national historic committees proved to be a time consuming challenge.
Ultimately, the results were well worth the effort. In August of 2020 The Barden reopened its doors. Public Craft Brewing Company now operates a first floor Craft Brewery/Restaurant on the ground level of the building. Brew tanks and additional event space occupy the basement. Culinary Infusion operates an upscale event space known as Upper East on the second level of the building, taking full advantage of the wonderfully restored original windows. The restored Barden building will live on as a valuable asset to the city of Kenosha for years to come thanks to Witico. The brewery offers a lively community gathering place and an attraction for visitors while Upper East provides an elegant wedding venue and meeting space.
Witico plans to continue working in the world of restoration and is currently lining up additional commercial restoration projects. At Abatron, we look forward to seeing what they come up with next!