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Jim Turner Preserving Detroit’s Original Steel Windows

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Jim Turner Preserving Detroit’s Original Steel Windows

ID1614_2_Hudsons_1950sIt was the destruction of Detroit’s historic J. L. Hudson Company Department Store that set Jim Turner on a career path to preserve old windows. Hudson’s had 2.1 million square feet of floor space with 32 floors and a world-record breaking 705 fitting rooms. In Detroit’s heyday, Hudson’s sold the height of fashion and anchored the downtown winter holiday season. But by 1983, it had closed. Jim, board president of Preservation Wayne in Detroit, argued restoring the building could drive economic development.

The city demolished it for the same reason, hoping that clearing space in downtown would encourage the builders to come.  It didn’t. The lot Hudson’s stood on, Turner points out, is empty to this day.

That experience galvanized preservation experts and Jim spearheaded forums showing people how they could affordably develop historic properties using tax credits. He worked on houses too. And as a gift, the owners of one of those houses gave him a two week immersion course at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Kentucky so he could become an expert at restoring historic wood and steel windows.

Why focus on windows? That part of the story is rooted in his childhood in Ecorse Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. The oldest of 12 children, his family lived in low-income housing not far from a major steel mill as well as Ford and General Motors plants. Seeking quiet, he would walk along the streets, looking at single-family homes wondering what it would be like to live in one.

He could see through the windows to a different future.

“Looking at life from the streetscape and the rhythm of housing and housing stock – that could comfort you and warm you and Jim Turner preserve original steel windowsmake you feel secure in the surface that faced the street. Oftentimes, even today when I’m new in a community, I’d rather walk that community because I learn more about its character.”

When he was drafted into the army, his mother bought a 1919 house in Detroit. The city is full of such homes as well as historic commercial structures that could be restored and preserved as an investment in the city’s future. He cites The Restoration Economy by Storm Cunningham and The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones in making his case.

“We need to recognize the age of country and the age of the housing stock and the buildings we have and how we can best restore them and we can create job opportunity by moving towards a green economy – or a restorative economy,” he said. “Because it becomes a sustainable ethic or ethos. By doing so, we put people back to work instead of letting people go. We don’t have to do it in the context of creating – we are recreating what we already have.”

As far as steel windows go, Jim contends they are as easy to restore as wood ones although many working in wood believe otherwise, he said.  With wood, you can cut a dutchman or patch and glue it into place. Working with metal windows is much the same except that instead of cutting wood and gluing you are cutting metal and welding.

“In many instances, if they employed the same craftsmanship and understanding of the metal window, they could do the work as efficiently and professionally as they are doing in wood.”

Learn more about restoring steel windows from Jim at our upcoming Window Hero Webinar on Tuesday, March 24. Please sign up for the free webinar.

Jim is an adviser in Michigan for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He said he’s repaying the gift he received to become a steel windows preservation expert by working as the  Executive Director of Samuel Plato Academy of Preservation Trades in Louisville, Kentucky.

Enjoy this type of content? At Indow, preserving historic windows is very important to us. We help architects across the country make original windows energy efficient with our inserts – read about it here. 

By |2018-09-20T20:09:22+00:00May 19th, 2016|Blog, Company News, Historic Preservation|4 Comments

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4 Comments

  1. katie June 23, 2016 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    SO SAD about Hudson’s downtown Detroit. That used to be so special for those of us who lived in the suburbs to travel downtown and shop there.
    Unfortunately for the city, it’s had horrible leaders and it’s disaray .
    I wish we could’ve had a hundred “Jim’s” to restore all of those wonderful old buildings.

  2. Vera December 2, 2016 at 5:17 am - Reply

    What this man is doing is right on target. There is a great deal of well – made, old “product” now existing in older parts of the US that is of value. Windows, doors, mouldings, etc. Collecting and offering these to the public is the way to go. This man, as a boy, obviously had an eye for such things. Yes – It is wonderful to have restorers in our societies. There is no reason Detroit cannot be restored. It IS happening with the Millenials choosing to move into decayed areas and fixing up old, beautiful homes. The same is happening in Milwaukee. Although the city never experienced what happened in Detroit, there are areas of blight, poverty. However, as in Detroit, many homes in poverty areas are structurally sound and architecturally beautiful. SO…We must teach younger generation to love and restore these homes. Believe me …It is happening as a Renaissance all over. The sterile suburbs have become prohibitively expensive and time – wasting and younger people are now returning to the old homes of cities and restoring them . Of course, when this happens, societies, neighborhoods and communities happen. All very good! God bless this man. I want to meet him and visit his business.

    • carrie January 3, 2017 at 6:02 pm - Reply

      Yes, Jim Turner is doing great work and we felt so lucky to have him do a Window Hero Webinar. I agree, Vera, that it’s important to teach the younger generation the value of fixing up beautiful old homes! So many of them were well made and it’s a shame to let that craftsmanship go to waste. Our next free webinar is with preservation expert Steve Jordan, author of the Window Sash Bible. He’s going to explain how to repair, maintain and restore historic windows circa 1800 to 1940. If you’re interested in restoring historic homes you might want to tune in: http://www.indowwindows.com/windowhero/
      Happy New Year and take care!

  3. Detroit's DoItHerselfDiva January 3, 2017 at 8:51 am - Reply

    I remember as a teenager,going downtown off Woodward Ave,to Hudson’s Department Store’s main branch! I also remember as a teenager,The televised implosion of such a beautiful building.Even though I had no idea what DIY or historical preservation/restoration was back then,I remember a pit in My stomach as that building went down on itself,In a matter of seconds & all that was left was a smoke cloud,We seen how City firetrucks were immediately spraying water on the huge pile of debris,That was just a huge building moments before& then within minutes..that dense cloud of dust just scattered like fog to the surrounding streets & around the ground floor of the Downtown skyscrapers.It was sickening!! Even now,If You drive through the neighborhoods & look past the blight of half fallen down homes & look at the architecture of that house with the windows/doors gone & the roof caved in on itself,You see the attention to detail & wide variety of housing styles this City once proudly displayed…Which is why,I go down to The City to buy My building supplies & reuse as much as possible,That is until recently when They raised their prices the way that Habitat for Humanity’s Restore has,Or even Salvation Army & St Vincent DePaul has.There’s only one place I go to now & they go in those dilapidated former beauties & deconstruct as much as They can,Reselling those materials at a fair price,For now,Until They get well known,popular, & price Me out of that market,too. Those other second hand resale stores have overpriced Their items so high,In an attempt to market themselves to The Hipster Generation moving back into The City,In the process The abandoned & forgot about Us Customers that had supported them when it wasn’t En Vogue to by second hand building products & no one knew what the term “Architectural Salvage” even was! Then again,I remember using a cable spool as a dining room table & it wasn’t considered “rustic industrial”..It was called being a young,married couple,struggling to just start out & BEING POOR!! It wasn’t “chic”,Not in the least!! But, I guess everything changes eventually,If You stick around long enough to see the changes,Right?

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