Sliding open the 500-pound “Durand’s Tin Clad Fire Door” and entering Sherman’s Roberts, Sanford and Taylor building is a bit like entering the Secret Garden. Despite the fact that the 28,530-square-foot former home of one of the nation’s largest wholesale hardware retailers lies smack-dab in the middle of Sherman’s Central Business District, its high brick walls combine with decades of neglect to make time spent in the building seem like time spent in a different world.
Piles of 90-year-old wood — once floorboards across which countless boots shuffled — clutter many of the massive structure’s dozen rooms, all of which are now open-air. Faded advertising murals are still visible on many of the walls, Junius Brutus Cigars and Coca-Cola prominent among them. Seemingly every corner contains some vestige of decades long gone; a century-old porcelain sink over here, a 1940s refrigerator over there.
Nature has reclaimed a few areas within the building. Several semi-mature trees sprout from old drainage holes. “There’s a lot of beauty to it, you see the solid surfaces and then this very organic thing popping up out of it,” said Sean Vanderveer Wednesday morning.
Vanderveer and his wife, Arie, purchased the RST building late last year as the crown jewel in a package of dilapidated properties, with eyes toward rehabilitation. Buildings on Houston and Travis streets were the first to undergo face-lifts, while the lack of roofing on the brick behemoth at the corner of Wall and Walnut streets made it a difficult nut to crack.
That is, at least, until the collapse of a nearby farmers market gave Vanderveer an idea.
“Originally, (Lupe’s Tamales’ John Arriazola) and Jordan (Moffitt) from Triple-R Thrift started a farmers market across the street, but it never took off,” said Vanderveer. “They just didn’t have a good place to hold it. The city wants you to have a restroom available.”
Vanderveer began collaborating with Sherman’s movers and shakers behind the scenes, contracting with architect and fellow downtown revitalization enthusiast David Baca to design a 4,000-square foot, permanent home for a Sherman Farmers Market.
If approved by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission next month, the farmers market could be open as soon as this fall, said Vanderveer, with a grant-funded roof for the market hopefully added a few months thereafter.
“If the city grants the temporary use permit, by mid-October we could have the temporary side of it open, I think,” said Vanderveer. “The actual structure, we’ll have to wait and see if it’s funded fully. And if it is fully funded, then by the spring, we’d hope to have the final structure done.”
Since announcing his plans on social media earlier this week, Vanderveer said he’s been overwhelmed by the community response. A Facebook page supporting the concept quadrupled in popularity in the first 24 hours after posting a photo of the planned finished product, he said.”
“It’s something that I think we need, and I’ve talked to some people that are interested in getting it going,” said Vanderveer. “The biggest thing is we want to be a benefit to the community, and I think it will be. I’ve been doing some reading on how much farmers markets can help communities.”
City leaders hope, however, that the farmers market would be only the start. Vanderveer has plans to further segment the building to accommodate modern day uses. The largest swath of the structure, an east-west stretch that runs the width of the building, could make an ideal event venue, he said. And an overgrown room to the side could be trimmed, manicured, equipped with a few hundred seats and recreated as a wedding locale.
“There’s a ton of potential, I think, but as you can see, there’s work to be done,” said Vanderveer, referring to the currently weed-covered nuptials room.
The most recently used portion of the building, which faces Wall Street, has been earmarked as the future site of commercial development. A large, skylight-lit storeroom could become a retail store room of a different sort, said Vanderveer. Roberts’ former office — the aged door still reads “MR. ROBERTS - PRIVATE” — could make for an excellent indoor/outdoor restaurant space, he suggested.
“I think, ultimately, after the farmers market happens, we’d like to have some retail, restaurants — how cool would it be to have a restaurant and then have an open courtyard to sit in and eat?”
Very cool, indeed, say city leaders. Downtown Sherman Preservation and Revitalization Executive Director Karen Tooley said the renovation of the RST building would help to further accelerate a slowly building groundswell that has brought several new businesses to downtown in the span of a few months.
“So much of our rich Sherman history is disappearing as our downtown buildings are lost,” said Tooley. “Restoring the RS&T building is a perfect chance to renew life in that majestic structure, benefiting us now and reconnecting us with our past.”
Sherman Mayor Cary Wacker concurred. She said she supported the idea in concept and recognized the project’s ability to reinvigorate Sherman’s historic district.
“Nationally, we see that great downtown neighborhoods are very desirable right now, and the city values the buildings and landmarks that make our city unique,” said Wacker. “Preserving the RST building will ensure that this block is viable for economic and tourism activity, and the farmers market will provide an exciting new dimension to the downtown experience.”
It’s support that Vanderveer said he’s glad to have as he embarks on a multi-year, multi-step plan to bring the Roberts, Sanford and Taylor building back from the brink.
“We’re just trying to breathe some new life into these great old buildings,” said Vanderveer. “I think, in the past, some people have wanted to see this one come down, and I’m sure glad that’s not what happened. I mean, yeah, it’s going to take money; it’s going to take work, but just think; how beautiful could it be?”