Preserving history, mitigating climate change, saving forests
A small contribution to “Save the Globe” could help save the equivalent of 20,000 trees and keep from adding 8,000 tons of carbon to the atmosphere of a warming planet.
The historic Globe Elevator in Superior, Wis., was once the biggest grain storage elevator in the world. Perched on the edge of Lake Superior, the elevator’s three buildings are made up of 5 million board feet of now extinct old-growth Eastern white pine.
The wood can only be obtained by salvaging it from existing structures like the Globe.
Wisconsin Woodchuck, a company that salvages lumber for re-use, is taking apart the Globe to sell the lumber to timber framers, contractors, architects, homeowners and interior designers.
Unfortunately, the second home market the company targeted declined in the tough economic climate. Few people are buying rustic cabins, cottages or vacation homes on the Great Lakes.
So Judy Peres and her partner, David Hozza, have launched a 45-day campaign to raise $56,000 to hold off the company’s foreclosure. They can’t accept the wood going to waste.
“We think we’ve done a good job of starting to tap into the market,” Peres said. “We need someone with better resources to continue.”
The fundraiser is unlikely to save the company from debt, but it could provide time to find a partner to finish taking down the elevator and selling the wood.
“In this economy it could be a viable business, but we just have too much debt,” Peres said. “I believe there will be an opportunity for someone else to take over this project with minimal investment.”
What in 2008 seemed like a reasonable project hit a snag when the recession dampened demand for the beautifully preserved wood.
The Eastern white pine is also a soft wood, said Peres. It requires more maintenance – such as continual re-oiling – than hard woods traditionally found in home flooring.
A great deal of wood from the elevator has already been put to use.
Icon Modern, a company that designs and manufactures sustainable furniture, has used elevator’s wood to make restaurant tables and even sculptures.
“I first saw their material at a sustainable trade show in Chicago a few years ago,” said Rocky Levy, owner of Icon Modern. “I was really intrigued by the story.”
The Chicago-based Icon Modern is committed to only using local materials, Levy said. But the Globe project is so unique that the company made an exception to go beyond Chicago.
“The first time I used their wood was for a project for Starbucks, one of my biggest clients,” Levy said. “The grain wood material was beautiful. Since then we’ve worked with the wood in four or five Starbucks in the Midwest region.”
Icon Modern has used oak blocks from the elevators for side tables, and has even created a hand-welded sculpture out of nails from the Globe. The sculpture is hanging in the popular Chicago restaurant Roka Akor.
Other Globe wood projects by Icon Modern include the reception desk at Whole Foods Headquarters in Chicago. It was featured in Interior Design magazine last summer.
Someone with less debt might have the means to find more companies like Icon Modern, which would help the project stay afloat, Peres said.
Peres, a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and Hozza, a former investment banker, knew that their investment was risky but found the project too compelling to pass up.
“We’ve reached a point in these past few months where we’re starting to realize we probably can’t save this business,” Peres said. “But what happens if we walk away?”
According to Peres, simply disposing of the wood is an environmental hazard.
“If a buyer is only interested in the land and chooses to burn down the elevator, that’s 8,000 tons of compressed carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere all at once,” Peres said.
“And even putting the wood into a landfill is not a good idea, because then the carbon will just be released into the atmosphere gradually,” she said.
Using wood growing in Great Lakes forests instead leads to unnecessary deforestation, she said.
To replace 5 million board feet of existing lumber, it would take more than 550 acres of present-day white pine timberland, according to data from the U.S. Forest Service.
That data is based on Wisconsin’s 2011 forestry inventory.
Beyond environmental concerns, demolishing the Globe Elevator would be destroying a piece of local Great Lakes history, Peres said.
“It took three thousand workers to build it, and these were new immigrants who didn’t have a lot of other choices,” she said. “The work was hard and dangerous, and if someone got hurt or killed they were replaced.
“It’s a sad time in our history, but this elevator really was like the Pyramids of the Great Lakes,” Peres said.
Fortunately, a chance for more exposure for the project came in an unexpected phone call from a producer of Ax Men, a television show about logging on The History Channel.
It was pure chance, Peres said.
“We had nothing to lose, and we figured we’d do it to increase visibility,” she said.
A season of the show is told from a number of perspectives – each logging or construction crew is in a sense one of the recurring characters – in what Peres jokingly calls a “soap opera” style.
“We’ve only been on once so far, but we’ve gotten a lot of calls and emails, and we’ve had a lot of inquiries,” Peres said. “We are going to be on four or five more times.”