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Old Livingston buildings are made new

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"REMEMBER WHEN" --- As I get up each morning and look into the mirror, I think, “Who is that old lady staring back at me?” After 20 minutes of hard work, reconstruction and applying a good coat of makeup, I am happier when I look in the mirror and so is everyone else!

Today’s story will be a lot like that. As many of you have passed the Quonset hut building (the Dick Alston building) at 210 North Houston Street where the ancient, rusty tractor is located, many were hoping that someone would soon buy these two old buildings and give them a new beginning.

Likewise, the old building on 109 East Abbey Street is now Petalz and the back of this building is The Plumber. Take a look, a good look. A new face on these two buildings have given us something new to look at. Be sure to stop in and take an inside look at both newer businesses. Amazing! That should be encouraging to other ambitious business owners who would like to take on a worthwhile adventure, plus add to the pleasure of driving by these restored, old structures and seeing a facelift in our community.

I’m thinking you would like to actually know about the term, “Quonset hut,” so here’s a short story of how this one ended up in our town. A Quonset hut is a lightweight, prefabricated structure of corrugated galvanized steel, having a semicircular cross-section. Developed in the Unites States, the design was based on the Nissen hut introduced by the British during World War I. They were first manufactured in 1941, when the United States Navy needed an all-purpose lightweight building that could be shipped anywhere and assembled without skilled labor.

Between 150,000 and 170,000 Quonset huts were manufactured during World War II. After the war, the United States military sold its surplus Quonset huts to the public and many remain standing throughout the United States. The John Alston building was such a building. It has now been refurbished for Southland Ag and Outdoors.

This is another one of those times we could say it was a coincidence. Dicki Lou Alston and sister, Libby Gibson, are daughters of a welder and machinist and I am the daughter of a welder and water well driller. Emanuel Miller (previous owner of the Abbey street business) and John Alston (previous owner of the North Houston Building) were both local boys who came home to Livingston with a dream and began their businesses. Now both these buildings have been purchased and put back to a purpose in the Livingston economy.

It was hard to get off the phone when I interviewed Dicki Lou, because we had attended school at the same time and grew up here as well. Besides that, we both still have the original swing sets that our daddies welded out of pipe and built for us (my 70-year-old swing set still sits behind the McCardell Cottage. It is too large to sit in my yard!) We both share the desire of seeing the Livingston downtown area restored.

We both have a story to tell and here is Dicki Lou’s story. She tells me that Robert Massingil of Lufkin had to vacate his feed store on the corner of FM 1988 and Highway 146 for a new truck stop coming in. They wanted to be moved in by Aug. 15. This plot of land had originally been John and Dick’s childhood home, with my Grandad’s blacksmith shop located behind the home.

John Alston designed and manufactured a ratchet pipe cutter. The mold for making the ratchet pipe cutter was stored upstairs in this building. Dicki Lou and Libby had never seen this mold before. They made the choice to keep the mold for the ratchet pipe cutter, but decided that Grandad’s old bed had to finally go, along with many objects from history that had accumulated over the years. The original safe was still in this building and they were able to preserve the original patent and seal for this invention (a ratchet pipe cutter).

Dicki Lou tells me that her dad, John, sent these pipe cutters throughout Europe and on to the Middle East. In our conversation, she said, “I know, we had lots of letters from all over the world, telling us that those original ratchet pipe cutters had never had to be worked on!”

My imagination was going wild. I asked her to tell me what else they found in the building.

Dicki Lou tells me, “We found auto parts that were just crumbling and pipe cutter templates, piles of metal shavings, a 100-year-old Burrough’s adding machine, thousands of nails, not hundreds, and steel work tables and lathes. We also came across branding irons that Daddy had made for ranchers in Polk County. We found tools and an excess of things that he had made in his shop.”

Someone asked Dicki Lou, “Did you sweep the floor?” She laughed and said, “Yes, after we swept it about 75 times.” Then she added, “There were plants growing through the electrical conduits. They were replaced according to the standards required to meet city code. We took out the old bathroom and replaced it.” But I love this, “We kept the old counter and I painted green around the edges but it still looks old — but it is old!”

I commented that it was a good location and Dicki Lou added, “Yes, Robert wanted to be on Highway 146. We had to treat the exterior surface of the building in order for the special designed paint to adhere to the exterior of the building. Robert and his brother own five feed stores all over East Texas. Robert is a truly a genuine Southern gentleman and a hard-working business owner.”

The Southern Ag and Outdoors will soon be announcing their grand opening. Remember to drop in and see another old building “made new” again. Did any of you see that old tractor? I did, and watched them move that old Allis Chalmer tractor. I had to know where it was now resting. Libby (Alston) Gibson took the tractor to the farm in Moscow. Dicki Lou said, “It has a good home.”

Andrea and Jeremy Buie purchased the Miller Pump and Supply building from Virginia Aubrey in 2013. The building had been King’s Gym, Damaged Cans Goods Sales, and then vacant for sometime. The building originally was the welding shop for Emanuel Miller.

Emanuel Miller had received his welding training while enlisted in the U.S. army in the 1940s, then worked in the Pasadena Ship Channel as a welder. He and his wife, Leta, moved to Livingston in 1944. Emanuel worked as a welder for McDonald’s Machine Shop, located on the Cemetery Hill across the street from Forest Hill Cemetery. Emanuel actually started his welding shop across the street from the Petalz shop in the old cotton gin in the 1950s. The Water Well Drilling building was built by Clifford Westcott.

Andrea describes the relationship that she and Jeremy had in pulling this restored building together to serve two businesses, Petalz and The Plumber: “Jeremy and I make a good team. I have the creative ideas and he builds it!” They had been renting and Papa Joe Pedigo, who was their good friend and mentor, told them about the 109 Abbey Street building at the Polk County Relay for Life in Pedigo Park on a Friday.

Jeremy looked at the vacant building on Saturday. Andrea said, “We saw the potential and what it could be. We went back to Papa Joe and discussed the price and negotiated. In a couple of weeks, July 2013, we began construction immediately.”

Andrea and Jeremy drew their plans, and soon they were in process of remodeling the existing building. Jeremy said, “The building has only one standing wall; it was all warehouse, totally open. We added everything you see now, keeping the original floors.” Most of the construction was done by Larry Fye, Andrea’s Dad.

Andrea and Jeremy have great creative ways of taking old objects and recreating them for very interesting ideas for both the florist and the plumbing office. Jeremy tells me about finding an old water meter cover from the parking lot on the property. He commented that it was old, because they had been making plastic water meter covers for 20 years. He should know, because he is “The Plumber!”

Many of the objects that they chose to use in the plumbing end of the business are complementary to the plumbing trade. Yet they found artistic, creative ways to display them. They have an old gate valve that came from the Carter home in Camden in the entrance on a barn wood shelf. Andrea made a wreath that I loved, using only old songbook pages!

It is a unique combination of rough and delicate objects like paper wreaths, old pipes, barn wood, brown paper pages, wire baskets and my favorite, a chandelier made from a wire basket with punch cups hanging from burlap straps. I told Andrea if I had another claw foot bathtub, I’d hang that chandelier over that tub!

I’ve noticed their tasteful floral arrangements as I was going out the door. They can make anything you could want for special occasions. This is one of the cutest and most original stores I seen in a very long time. I can say that because I owned and operated Beverly’s Interiors in the 1980s! Good taste is a quality I appreciate and recognize!

COL--BM--quonset-hutQUONSET HUT — The Alston Building at 210 N. Houston in Livingston was constructed using a World War II surplus Quonset hut.

COL--BM--pedalzOnce the home of Miller Pump and Supply, this building at 109 E. Abby in Livingston is now the home of the Petalz florist shop and The Plumber, which is located in the rear.

Copyright 2016 Polk County Enterprise