Historic Exchange Bank building up for sale
Historic Exchange Bank building up for sale
SMITHFIELD - Notable for its significant role in Greenville's history, and for the recalcitrant clock on its fa?ßade that shows the exact time - but only twice a day - the 157-year-old former Smithfield Exchange Bank Building at 595 Putnam Pike has been put up for sale for $500,000.
A one-time fire station where both fire apparatus and horses were kept, the brick structure, built in 1856, was long home to a bank that played a major role in 19th Century finance here.
The current owner, retired dentist Paul Osenkowski, maintained a practice there for 31 years. He says he's hoping the town will buy the brick-front structure, which includes three upper floors and a full basement.
He said the town's fire headquarters two doors away on Putnam Pike is overcrowded and that using his building for department offices would make it possible to retain the station, built in 1939, rather than incurring the expense of constructing a new one.
Town ownership of the structure would also help protect the historical atmosphere of the village, he said.
Osenkowski's building, which contains 4,884 square feet of space not counting the unfinished basement, is on about a third of an acre that includes 30 parking spaces in the rear.
Between the building and the fire station is the c. 1822 former Resolved Waterman Tavern, which was the original home of the exchange bank before the newer building went up prior to the Civil War.
The tavern building in 2006 was deeded by the town to the Smithfield Preservation Society, which is restoring it, despite years of objection by Osenkowski, who said before the restoration started that the structure was an eyesore, a safety hazard, and blocked motorist visibility of the fire station.
But the preservation group is enthusiastic about its project, and using town funds and grant money has so far restored the building's exterior and painted it colonial yellow.
Osenkowski hasn't changed his mind, however, describing the tavern building this week as "a pig with yellow lipstick."
Still, in a rare confluence of agreement, he and society President John Emin - a former Town Council president - found themselves taking similar positions, with Emin asserting that town purchase of the structure would produce a historically valuable municipal complex in the heart of Greenville Village.
Osenkowski, 64, said another dentist currently practicing in the building is moving shortly to a medical building elsewhere in town, and that the only other tenant, a market research services company, is willing to accommodate his needs.
Town officials, meanwhile, say they're aware of the building's availability but that no money has been budgeted for such a purchase and that questions need to be answered about the feasibility of buying the structure, including whether it would fit in with current planning.
"Will we look at it? Sure, we'll look at it," said Town Manager Dennis Finlay. "We want to look at all possibilities."
But, he added, it would not be accurate to say at this point that there is serious interest in the building.
Fire Chief Robert Seltzer said he called Osenkowski, who now lives in Mattapoisett, Mass., to ask about the structure because the department is developing plans for the future and is looking at "all potential avenues."
But he, also, said that any interest in the structure right now is strictly potential.
Robert Leach, chairman of the town's Historic Preservation Commission, said he supports a town purchase of the building, possibly with the idea of housing a firefighting museum on the lower level to include antique local fire equipment that is available, some of which he owns himself.
State Rep. Thomas Winfield, who owns property just west of the fire station that controls access to parking behind the station, asserted that municipal purchase of Osenkowski's parcel would allow the town to develop formal vehicle access to the fire station and for the former tavern building, which he said now has no parking area of its own.
Winfield said he has traditionally allowed the Fire Department use of his driveway because there is otherwise no public vehicle access to the rear of the building.
One highly visible quirk on Osenkowski's building is the exterior clock high on its front fa?ßade, whose hands have been frozen for years at ten minutes past four.
Osenkowski, who thinks the clock was installed in the 1920s, said he spent considerable money over the years trying to fix it, but abandoned the effort after one final attempt in which the hands began moving again - but backward.
He said he is acting as his own sales agent for the building