Historical society racing to save towers from demolition

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The Irish Hills Towers have been given the designation of Dangerous Buildings by Cambridge Township. The Irish Hills Historical Society must have a viable plan for repair and renovation in place by Aug. 1, 2013 or the towers will have to be demolished. Built in 1924, the landmark towers have been closed to the public since 2000. Photo by Mary Kay McPartlin.

From 1924 until 1955 visitors to the Irish Hills had to choose between two towers where they could see for miles. The chance to gaze over seven miles and 10 lakes may never happen again unless the Irish Hills Historical Society is able to raise $200,000 to renovate the landmark Irish Hills Towers.

A Dangerous Building Hearing was held in Cambridge Township on April 24, which presented the results of an April 17 building inspection by Dailey Engineering. The towers are considered structurally unsound due to lack of maintenance and weather protection. Water has been able to enter the buildings and there is a chance for falling debris. Cambridge Township officials are concerned about several dangerous scenarios that could occur if the towers are not secured.

Bruce Nickel, Cambridge Township Building Official, stated in a written presentation, “The structures have loose siding and other building materials that are a danger to adjacent properties, people and vehicles traveling on the adjacent state highway. These loose or potentially dangerous materials must be repaired or removed immediately.”

According to Cambridge Township, the Irish Hills Historical Society must have a viable plan for repair and renovation in place by August 1 with repairs completed by the end of the 2013 construction season. If this requirement is not met, the township expects a demolition permit be obtained by August 1 with demolition completed by Oct. 1, 2013.

Owner Donna Boglarsky had signed a quitclaim deed for the towers, gifting them to the Irish Hills Historical Society, Inc., which she formed in 2010 as a 501c non-profit organization. A Board of Directors, with Boglarsky as president, guides the renovation process.

The Society has been working the past three years to raise money to refurbish and reopen the Towers. The plans include the addition of a museum dedicated to Irish Hills memorabilia located in the base of the Towers.

Boglarsky’s husband, Ronald, now deceased, purchased the Towers in 1976 after the property went into foreclosure with the previous owner. The Boglarsky family tried to increase revenue by building an 18-hole miniature golf course on the property, but were affected, like so many Irish Hills attractions, by changing times, which led to fewer visitors and less revenue.

The last year the Towers were open was 2000. “It was just more than we could handle,” Boglarsky said. “They did mean a lot to us.”

In addition to the lack of protection against the weather of the years, there have also been a number of trespassers on the property. “People were just ruining stuff and breaking things,” said Boglarsky.

Although there is not much time to raise the money necessary to prevent demolition of the Towers, the Irish Hills Historical Society is working hard to get funding in place. In his summary from the hearing, township hearing officer Jerry Isom said, “If the Irish Hills Historical Society obtain (sic) a building permit for the repairs and show continuous progress in bringing his property to current building codes and safe conditions for the public, I would be in favor of extending the timeline.”

According to Boglarsky, the society has several things in place for fundraising. First was to develop a presence on the Internet including a Facebook page and a listing on www.causes.com. Visitors can make donations with the click of a button at www.irishhillstowers.com using a Paypal account, or send donations in through the mail.

“We’re going to be part of Historypalooza,” said Boglarsky. The group has planned a silent auction for a canvas print of the Towers at the event on May 25 and 26.

“We’re looking into grants,” she said, which is challenging as no one in the Society has experience with grant writing. “There are so many requirements.”

According to Boglarsky, one way to make the repairs less costly is to remove the tops from the Towers, do the restoration and then reset the tops back on the tower. This was how the tower tops were replaced in 1972.

Boglarsky spoke with people at Floyd’s Rigging about the possibility of removing the tower tops. “Their feeling is, yes, it definitely can be done,” she said.

The Towers have a colorful history. Originally there was to be one Tower built by the Michigan Observation Company in 1924. The 50-foot high tower was built right along the property line of Edward Kelley, who was not in favor of the construction.

To retaliate, he then built his own tower that topped out at 60 feet. Michigan Observation Company then added 14 feet to its tower, followed by Kelley adding four feet to his tower, making both towers 64 feet high. The height stayed at that level after the Michigan Observation Company threatened any more increases by Kelley would force them to build a taller steel tower.

The towers competed for visitors until 1955 when Frank Lamping purchased the West Tower (also known as the Spite Tower) from Kelley, adding it to his 1944 purchase of the east tower.

During the 1960s the tops were removed for a renovation project that was never completed. In 1972, the Towers received brand-new matching tops for the first time in their existence.

Boglarsky is hoping donations will come in like a recent one from Alaska, allowing the Irish Hills Historical Society to return the towers back to their original glory. She is looking forward to adding volunteers with different backgrounds that will benefit the Irish Hills Historical Society and the Irish Hills Towers.

“We just keep plugging away,” Boglarsky said.




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