Saving the centerpiece: Endangered Lutterloh Building is a treasury of local history

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By Jenna McKenna

Dr. John Andrews, vice president of the Cedar Key Historical Society, has been actively pursuing public engagements to talk about saving the Lutterloh Building for at least a year.

Last March he addressed the Cedar Key City Commission to ask about a joint effort with the historical society, and since that time he has pursued state grants and interrogated engineers. At that meeting, commissioners asked Andrews how soon the building might fall down if no action was taken.

"Not for at least 12 months," he told them, barring catastrophic storms. Ten months have gone by.

At that commission meeting, Andrews said the estimated cost to rehabilitate the building is about $750,000.

The engineer at Hal Reid, who performed the planning work, fell ill before completing a detailed cost estimate, so $750,000 is a fairly confident figure estimated by local builder and Local Planning Administration director Greg Lang.

"That's a ballpark estimate," Andrews said.

One of the hoped-for sources of funding for the project is a grant from the State of Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation, in an amount up to $350,000. The grant has a matching requirement - usually 50 percent, although rural counties like Levy County are only required to pony up $50,000 - and so the Historical Society has been holding a series of fundraisers to raise the money.

"So far, we've raised about $24,000 of the $50,000 that we need," Andrews said. "About $20,000 of that was just in donations from among the members of the Historical Society. The rest came from the fish fry."

Next Saturday, the Historical Society will hold an auction at the Island Hotel to try to raise more funds toward the grant match. They have plenty of time, and no time at all to raise money, since the grant application is due at the end of May, but the grant, if won, would not be disbursed until March 2009.

Andrews would like to have the money sooner rather than later, as this precious building continues to decay.

The Lutterloh Building, along with the adjacent Andrews House, displays a portion of the collections of the Cedar Key Historical Society. While the Andrews House collections are more compact, including the more modern histories of the Florida Railroad, the Standard Manufacturing Company and the Andrews family in Cedar Key, the contents of the Lutterloh Building are much broader in scope.

The main collection in the Lutterloh Building starts at approximately the dawn of human habitation and comes up to about some time last week. All together in one room are displays dedicated to Victorian-era fashions, as well as pre-Columbian Native American artifacts, a display on the Civil War, and one on the island's cedar pencil industry. A rack of photo and newspaper pages shows everything from storm wreckage to Sunday school picnics, and includes yearbook pages from Cedar Key School in which, on looking closely, one can find many prominent citizens of the present day.

Another room houses a select portion of the Historical Society's maritime collection, from a Timucua dugout canoe to elaborate dioramas of Cedar Key fishing boats, models of fish traps and a display illustrating contemporary hard clam aquaculture methods.

"We had more than 8,000 visitors last year," said Andrews. "Most of those people told us they were really impressed - they really enjoyed seeing the history of our town."

The 1871 building, originally built by John B. Lutterloh as his office and residence, is in big trouble simply because of where it sits. Although stoutly built with a tabby footer and heavy wooden beam foundation, such structures are nevertheless not intended to be immersed in stormwater or subjected to infusions of rain runoff, insults which have plagued the building repeatedly over its long tenure at the corner of Second and D streets.

Andrews' detailed notes on the structure point out an additional folly: "Although the building originally had a hip or gable roof, at some point the roof was partially built up into a flat roof with drainage at the north end," he said.

Naturally, the drainage has been imperfect, causing leaks, one more contributor to the alarming deterioration of one of Cedar Key's most important buildings.

"The building has settled as a result of the damage to those wooden beams," Andrews said.

There have been prior attempts at repair and alteration. At some point, the exterior walls were partially replaced with concrete block. The room that houses the maritime collection is part of a 1987 addition that Andrews says shouldn't change the building's eligibility for a preservation grant, but will require the project to be designated "rehabilitation" rather than "restoration."

Finally, the rehab project will enable the building to be brought up to code for electrical, plumbing, climate control and lighting, and a fire suppression system will be added. Andrews said the repairs will make it possible to better arrange the collections, although they will not add substantially more space.

"We have enough maritime artifacts in our collection to fill a museum solely dedicated to the marine and fishing history of Cedar Key," Andrews said.

Ultimately, the best guess estimate of $750,000 is a far cry from the money the Historical Society might expect from the Historic Preservation grant, but it's a start.

"It would, of course, be cheaper to just tear the building down and rebuild it to FEMA specifications," Andrews said, with a dismayed laugh. "But that's not the point. It's important for us to preserve our history and our culture."