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James Pollard restores downtown Blue Earth buidling

By Staff | Jan 11, 2013

James (Jim) Forrest Pollard, Blue Earth, has always had a fondness for old things.

Houses, antiques, buildings and dinosaur bones. But, we will get to the dinosaurs later in this story.

Pollard needed some space for an art studio, so he began looking at old buildings in downtown Blue Earth, intending either to rent space or to purchase one and fix it up.

“I like the thought of taking something old and trying to restore it and reuse it,” he says. “It is a shame to let these buildings stand abandoned until they have to be torn down.”

Pollard’s son, Ross, was going to be moving to Blue Earth and needed a place to work his craft.

“Ross is an artist,” Pollard says. “And he needed an area to use as an art studio.”

Ross is not the only one in the family who is an artist.

Jim himself has been an artist all his life, painting portraits on commission since he was 18 years old. He has painted people of note from up and down the East Coast and his works hang in galleries in New York City. His significant other, Bridget Gallagher, is a landscape artist.

Both Jim’s father and mother were artists. His father was also a portrait painter, his mother an illustrator.

Both of his brothers and his sister have been artists for at least some part of their lives. And some of their children are also artists. Pollard’s brother is now an art director of a modern art gallery in New York City.

Art certainly runs in the family.

So, small wonder Pollard’s son Ross is an artist as well. In fact, Jim Pollard says Ross is the best one of all, doing painting of many kinds, drawing and sculpting.

Ross Pollard had been living in Wisconsin, taking care of his grandmother, Jim Pollard’s mother, who had Lou Gehrig’s disease and was dying. He had a studio in her home for his work.

After her death, he wanted to move to Blue Earth. But, he needed some work space. So his father started looking around.

“I looked at the old bank building (former Hallmark Cards building) and was putting in an offer on it,” James Pollard says. “That is when I mentioned it to Tom Bartley.”

Bartley, owner of Bartley Printing, told Pollard he was ready to sell out.

“He said, ‘If you want to buy a building why not buy mine I’ll give you a good deal.’ And he did give me a good deal, that is why we could afford to fix it up,” Pollard said. “Except I had to agree to take it as is and clear everything out that he left behind myself.”

Pollard says that while the building was not the most attractive one in town, it did have some interesting features and a very interesting history.

“There was both a doctor and dentist office upstairs at one time,” Pollard says. “And there had been a drug store on the main floor.”

The upstairs had been used as two apartments. Neither had been occupied for some time when Pollard took over ownership.

“I wanted to restore it to what it looked like originally, as much as possible,” he says.

So, he tore down the paneling, the false ceilings and peeled up four layers of linoleum off the floor.

“You can see the darker round area in the wood floor where the dentist chair sat in the front apartment,” he points out.

“I can’t believe anyone covered all this up,” he says. “I plan to leave as much of this as it is, the way it looked originally, back in 1910.”

Pollard has restored the front apartment, added a new toilet and water heater. He had to have all the electrical redone.

“I had two friends from Idaho here to help,” he says. “Peter and Ryan Shearer. They helped insulate the attic, which is only four feet tall at one end and tapers down to one foot at the other.”

They found some of the old shutters for the windows in the attic and put them back on. Plus they built a dividing wall out of old tongue and groove wood they purchased from Terry Armon. A stained glass window, rescued from the basement, hangs nearby.

Pollard used Dave Wiltse’s cherry-picker truck to tear off the old wood siding on the front of the building, put up flower boxes and fix all the windows.

Ross Pollard is now living in the front apartment. The rear apartment is still a work in progress.

“We have taken it down to the bare brick walls in the back,” James Pollard says. “We are still not entirely sure what we are going to do with the space.”

Some have suggested combining both apartments into one larger one. But, the Pollards are still thinking of other possible uses for the space.

On the main floor, Pollard tore everything out and finished it off. Now that it is done, Weathered and Worn had moved in. Recently, Pollard added an antique style sign for them, which hangs above the door.

Actually the sign is new, and was painted by son Ross.

In the rear of the building on the main floor, Ross has room for his studio and his workshop, which is used for many things.

Besides hand making specialty art materials for well known artists like Jim Dine, Ross Pollard is also using the space for his own sculpting, painting, illustration and designing.

“We have put a lot of work into the building, although it might not appear so,” James Pollard says. “Just cleaning it all out and stripping off the old material has been an ordeal. We have filled six large dumpsters, which they tell me was about 16,000 pounds of material.”

It hasn’t all been easy.

When the toilet in the rear apartment was flushed, it leaked down the outside wall and into the basement.

“We tore up the floor boards and discovered the sewer pipe had totally been eaten away on the top half of the pipe, from the sewer gas,” Pollard says. “It had to all be replaced.”

Basically, he explains, the building was old and falling apart in some respects.

Pollard rebuilt the front part of the building himself, trying to restore it to what it looked like in photographs from years ago.

“I love doing this,” he says. “I guess I have a passion for it.”

How this passionate building restorer and artist ended up in Blue Earth is a story in itself.

“When my two sons were very young, like six years old, I would take them dinosaur bone hunting each summer,” he says. “That is also a passion of mine.”

From his home in Wisconsin to the dinosaur digs near Hill City in western South Dakota, Blue Earth was about halfway and was always a rest stop.

“I liked the name of the town,” he says. “Although we never toured the city on our stops, I always imagined it was a classic, beautiful small town.”

A couple of years ago, Pollard was having some life changing health issues.

“I laid in a hospital bed and decided I was going to make some big changes in my life,” he says. “I was determined to quit doing what I was doing, and try something else, somewhere else.”

So, he borrowed a nurses laptop computer and looked up houses for sale in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa that were priced between $1 and $30,000.

“You’d be surprised how many of those there are,” he says. “In fact, there was a house in Fargo for sale for $1. Of course, you would have to live in Fargo.”

One of the 30 houses he selected to look at was a century-old classic style home in Blue Earth that hadn’t been touched with modern things like vinyl siding.

“I remembered the town, from our stops here,” he says. “We came, we saw and we bought.”

They sold their farm near Cazenovia, Wis., and made the move.

Their home on East Third Street didn’t need a lot of work, Pollard says. Just some fixing up here and there.

“Bridget has been busy in the yard, making all kinds of changes, and building gardens,” he says. “That is her passion.”

Pollard has another son, Dean, who is in the Navy, but works as a Chinese linguist in Honolulu for the National Security Agency.

“He can’t tell me what he does, because it is so secret,” Pollard says. “His wife is a Russian linguist who lives in Washington, D.C.”

But, Pollard says, they both think they might like to move to Blue Earth one day, after hearing good things about it from the rest of the family.

As for his own future, Pollard says he wants to continue to work on the Bartley building but has eyes on doing even more remodeling or restoring projects.

“I still like that Hallmark Cards building,” he says. “How many small towns have such a classic art deco style building on their main street? It really needs to be saved and restored to its original beauty before it’s too late.”