The former Plains Furniture store in downtown Casper is hiding a piece of local history.
Behind the facade is an extension of the building’s next door neighbor: the restored 1920s fire station that now houses commercial office space.
The city bought the Plains building for $3 million in January and plans to demolish it. Fire station owner Phil Schmidt hopes when that happens, Casper City Council will agree to trade his building’s parking lot for the extension — a large garage which is attached to the station’s south side but entirely covered by the furniture building.
Anthony Jacobsen of Stateline Architects presented the plan at Tuesday’s city council work session and explained that Schmidt stumbled upon old photographs of the building that showed an attached garage.
“We get in Plains Furniture, pop up some ceiling tiles and lo and behold there’s still cornice, there’s still all the detailing,” Jacobsen said.
The garage includes two more stone archways that mirror the station’s existing three arches. Schmidt wants to restore the garage and use it as indoor parking for the offices inside the fire station.
Jacobsen said that despite being entirely encompassed by the Plains building, the garage is structurally part of the fire station.
Council was impressed with the presentation and surprised to learn that the hulking, warehouse-style building the city acquired earlier this year housed a piece of historic architecture.
“We would like to preserve this beautiful piece of architecture,” said Mayor Daniel Sandoval.
But Sandoval repeatedly called the question of whether the city could actually transfer control of the garage extension to Schmidt a “Gordian knot.”
Councilman Ray Pacheco pointed out that a Gordian knot literally referred to a knot that was impossible to untangle.
“Is that what you meant?” Pacheco asked to laughter.
The question centers on a planned land swap between Schmidt and the Downtown Development Agency. The fire station’s parking lot is adjacent to the David Street Station site on the corner of Old Yellowstone Highway and David Street.
Schmidt has agreed to give the DDA control of the parking lot, which is on the side of the building, in exchange for a similar lot directly behind the fire station.
Jacobsen said Schmidt’s new proposal is to trade the parking lot for the garage extension within the Plains building. But while the parking lot and garage take up similar footprints, Sandoval said such a transaction would be more complicated than swapping empty lots and likely require a value assessment and open bidding process.
“How do we untangle this gordian knot of ownership so that someone in a bidding process, which is what statute calls for, doesn’t buy this portion of Phil Schmidt’s building?” Sandoval asked.
Council instructed city staff to study the issue and report back with proposals for how such an exchange could be conducted.