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Published: Tuesday, 4/2/2002

Battle lines form over Brenda's

Let's play Toledo Jeopardy!

A: The Valentine Theatre. The Gardner Building. The Ohio Building. The Oliver House. The Hillcrest. Woolworth's. Macy's.

Q: Can you name some downtown-area buildings once threatened by demolition but now regarded as part of the very fabric of this community?

Toledo's too-familiar pattern: Old building falls into disrepair. Muckety-mucks say, “Unsightly! Must go.” Cue wrecking ball - and preservationists.

If the building stands, we brag about its rehab to visitors. If it falls, we park there.

Much has been said lately about 523 Monroe St., which is almost close enough to the sparkling new ballpark for a pitcher to spit on. It was last known as Brenda's Body Shop, a girlie club, and this is usually among the reasons cited for razing the place.

It's not historic, it's just a falling-down old strip club. It's ugly! What's to “save?”

But the fact that George Washington never slept there is beside the point. And no one right now explains this better than City Council President Peter Ujvagi, who recently had something of a conversion experience about urban design.

“Having a livable city,” he says, “doesn't just mean preserving quote-unquote historic buildings. I think we need to preserve the fabric of the community. When I started in public life 30 years ago, I passionately believed that, but quite honestly, I have drifted away from that belief for some time.”

For his newly altered thinking, we thank the mayor of Charleston, S.C. A renowned urbanist, Joseph Riley, Jr., was here recently to speak on that very topic - and Peter Ujvagi, bless his heart, was one of the very few elected officials there.

“The point [Mayor Riley] made was: Look at the economic impact of a building on the ones next door and down the street. Even buildings that don't make economic sense [to rehab], you go back five years later and see how it has generated the renovation of buildings nearby.”

Speaking thus, Mr. Ujvagi sets himself up for the considerable wrath of Sandy (“She Who Must Be Obeyed”) Isenberg, the county commission president who want that building torn down YESTERDAY if not RIGHT NOW, %*#!

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, Ms. Isenberg once said: “Part of progress is preservation.” This was 1996, and SWMBO was speaking of St. Clair Village, the warehouse district collection of 1860s buildings.

It's a shame she apparently no longer feels this way. Hats off to Mr. Ujvagi because he does - and for his willingness to politically cross SWMBO, of whom he says: “God love Sandy, but when she gets something in her cross hairs, look out. I'm not looking forward to [being in her sights].”

Mayor Jack Ford, meanwhile, is as quiet about Brenda's as SWMBO is loud.

When I asked for Mr. Ford's take in January, the mayor who wants an “elegant city” said he “would hope the building could remain and be put in the hands of someone who's going to turn it around.”

But when I called yesterday to confirm that he still held this view, I couldn't get past his PR flak, who would only say:

“Although the mayor commented at one time on the status of Brenda's, the mayor chooses not to comment at this time.”

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays,

and Saturdays. Email her at roberta@theblade.com or call 1-419-724-6086.

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