Commerce Street getting back a face from past under Jim Love’s guidance

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 22, 2001

Treasures found. Treasures lost. Jim Love knows well the joys and the frustrations of preservation as he moves headlong into the biggest project yet in his long experience of renovating and restoring old buildings.

At the Newcomb Building – known by many Natchez residents as the former George’s clothing store – Love has scoured for clues, hoping to recreate the original appearance of the 1868 structure facing west on Commerce Street between Main and Franklin.

&uot;We have the original doors to the stairway,&uot; Love said, gesturing toward the Commerce Street entrance to the second floor. &uot;But we’re having to make six pairs of doors for the other spaces. That’s 12 doors.&uot;

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His emphasis is understandable. These are not ordinary doors. Each is more than 11 feet tall and set off by massive decorative posts, or panels, that also have to be replicated in their intricate detail.

&uot;Here are the outlines of where the columns will be,&uot; Love said, as he pointed out marks on the floor and reiterated the challenges for the carpenter working with him on the project.

The building was constructed as two separate stores. Love will use the two as one to house his Cornerstone Antiques. Upstairs he will have a townhouse to use for his Natchez residence, he said.

Owner of an oil exploration company in Shreveport, La., his primary residence, Love travels back and forth frequently and has strong ties to Natchez, where his first restoration was the antebellum house Airlie.

Among treasures Love has found during early stages of restoration at the Newcomb Building are decorative artworks on walls and ceilings – beautiful in design and color but sadly crumbling and probably not salvageable.

&uot;It’s considerably more elaborate in places,&uot; Love said. &uot;I’ve been up on scaffolding on my back looking at it and working on it.&uot;

A 19th-century photograph shows the original front balcony, set off by decorative ironwork. Searches turned up the same pattern of ironwork available today.

Love pointed out the 19th-century plaque designating the building, &uot;Center of Natchez,&uot; located low on the front exterior and also prominent in a historic photograph of the building.

The three-bedroom, three-bath townhouse will be an adventure in living, Love said. &uot;It will be interesting to see what it’s like to live as so many did in the 19th century, having your home above the store.&uot;

This will be no ordinary home. Love has found unexpected elegance, such as in the Greek Revival-style woodwork, a grand central hall and the back gallery with its original columns, which will overlook a large courtyard when the project is complete. There are 10 fireplaces.

&uot;I want to recreate the formality of the original building,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ll have a formal parlor, dining room and bedrooms, but I’ll incorporate modern conveniences, the best of both worlds,&uot; he said. &uot;Furnishings will be a mix of contemporary and antiques.&uot;

Love hopes the exterior portion of the project will be complete in a couple of months and the townhouse portion of the project by the end of the year. Nashville architect David Hawkins is assisting with the project.

The restoration includes another separate building, a dependency in the rear, that will be converted into two apartments.

Getting involved in preservation and restoration requires a keen sense of history, Love said. &uot;You have to want to preserve the original fabric, the artist’s plan, the original builder’s ideas,&uot; he said. &uot;And it’s not something you make a bunch of money on.&uot;

Nevertheless, Love entered the realm of restoration for exactly that purpose – not to make big money but to earn enough to put himself through college.

&uot;I’ve done a dozen 1920s to 1950s houses in Shreveport. I’d find a good buy, move into the house and make the improvements and then sell it and move on to another one,&uot; he said.

He hopes the Newcomb Building restoration will inspire more restoration downtown. &uot;There is so much to do downtown, so many worthy places just waiting to be restored.&uot;