Mary Pat Bliss received the call meant for her husband, Dick. It was a new opportunity, one that he had been looking to get for the past few years, but at the time she was a little ambivalent.
That opportunity was the sale of a New Albany landmark in dire need of work -The Calumet Club, formerly the Amalgamated Building, at 1614 East Spring Street in New Albany.
Dick Bliss, co-owner of Bliss Travel, is the owner of the property adjacent to the Calumet Club. When he was improving the property and expanding the parking lot in 1997, Bliss began to take notice of the old building and its potential. “I saw it, boarded up and falling apart, and thought that I sure would like to have it,” Bliss said.
At the time, the building was owned by the Amalgamated Union, which acquired it in 1957, and still had an office there. Bliss eventually talked to Bill Smith, the head of the organization’s operations in New Albany, and asked him if his organization would be willing to sell it.
“I made him an offer, and his people said ‘no’,” Bliss said. “About a year later, it came up again.” Bliss made another offer, and although the offer was taken more seriously this time, it was ultimately turned down again.
Another year later, Bliss had a chance meeting with Smith, and the topic came up one more time. “He asked me if the offer still stood, and I said it did.” Bliss said, The answer was finally “yes.” “Thirty days later, it was a done deal, ” Bliss said.
The phone call that would finalize the deal came to Bliss Travel while Dick Bliss was out. Mary Pat was the one who took the message. Knowing the amount of time and effort that would be needed to turn the dilapidated building into something to be proud of, the thought briefly crossed her mind of “forgetting” to give her husband the message, but knew the offer was too good to pass up. “I reluctantly turned the number over to him,” she said.
A few years later, she’s glad she did. “This building is our pride and joy,” she said to a meeting of the Floyd County Historical Society, which the couple recently hosted at the Calumet. “We are so proud to be the owners of this building.”
The building was constructed in 1920 as the meeting place of the Calumet Club, a group who gathered to take part in athletic, social and civic endeavors. Created in 1911, the club at its height claimed more than 800 members. Designed to be a young man’s club, the membership began to suffer in the early 1920s as the automobile gave more opportunities to find entertainment. The Great Depression sounded the group’s death knell. In the 1930s, the club sold the building to the United States Army, which made it into an armory and place where area soldiers departed to enter World War II and the Korean War. The building was again sold in 1957 to the Amalgamated Union.
The years had not been kind to the structure. “I really didn’t know what I was getting into until I really got to looking at it, ” Bliss said. “The project was bigger than we really anticipated. It was just ate up with ugliness”
Termites had infested the building, Bliss said, eating away much of the stairs and other wooden structures. “A lot of it was completed gone,” he said. “It would just crumble if you touched it. We also removed more than seven tons of cast iron piping, and there were, I’d say, 43 layers of paint on the windows, which were covering up a beautiful walnut wood.”
Bliss and his family have completely redone the lower level of the three-story structure, and plan to rent it out for weddings and wedding receptions, meetings and other events. Bliss has installed a bar in the area that can completely closed off for under-age activities.
The rest of hte building, now under renovation, will be used for offices, including the new home of Bliss Travel.
Dave Barksdale, president of the Floyd County Historical Society, had nothing but good things to say of the revamped facility.
“It’s great to see such an important building saved, and have new life breathed into it,” Barksdale said. “The architecture of the building is wonderful. It’s one of New Albany’s success stories.”
Although it had fallen onto hard times before Bliss acquired it, the building always held a place in New Albany history, Barksdale said. “If they’re over a certain age, the building brings back a memory to almost everyone in the community,” he said. “Where they knew it as the Calumet Building or the Armory, it touched a lot of lives over the years.”
“It’s been a challenge,” Bliss, 66, said of the restoration project. “I love old buildings. A lot of people said it couldn’t be done. I knew it could. Anything can be done if you throw enough time and money at it. The question always is ‘is it worth it?’ This building was.”
Story By: Dave Davis
Photos By: Kevin McGloshen
Sunday, November 28, 2004