The Lillesand House

This house at 103 E. Park Lane is the former residence of “Doc” Joel E. and Viola Lillesand, best known for running a longtime veterinary service out of this house from 1920 to around 1968. The Verona Area Historical Society is considering purchasing the house to turn ito a history center.

Sometimes, those old fixer-uppers don’t quite work out as planned.

Looking to avoid getting tangled up in a house project that’s not financially feasible, Verona Area Historical Society members reluctantly pulled the plug earlier this year on a plan to renovate a historic Verona home into a permanent museum. But with collections — and interest — growing, they’re looking for ways to display more of their artifacts while they seek a long-term solution.

Last September, society members began serious investigating and planning on what it would take to renovate a historic home into a history center, enlisting the help of an architect and local restoration experts for advice.

The home, at 103 E. Park Lane, was a livery stable before being retrofitted to be a home and veterinarian’s office for Doc and Viola Lillesand from 1920 to around 1968. The society considered purchasing the house to turn into a permanent history center to display its growing collection.

Society members toured the house with contractors and local renovation experts, met with the city inspector, consulted fundraisers, and started working with an architect to scope out possibilities.

An anonymous donor even offered $150,000 for the purchase of the building and naming rights. In November, the society held a public informational meeting and discussion about a site that could serve as a “history center” for the area.

But after a subsequent meeting with an architect who broke down the costs of updating everything from elevators to HVAC systems, society president Jesse Charles said it was clear the society didn’t have the funds for something that extensive.

“It was going to be maybe $300,000, maybe $400,000 to renovate it but then it was going to be another $8,000 to $10,000 to keep it afloat every year,” he told the Press last week. “You’d have to be in constant funrdraising mode to do that.”

The most frustrating part, he said, was the house otherwise fit all the criteria: centrally located downtown and walkable, zoned to allow a museum, provided links to Verona history and had a smaller, maintainable size.

“The family was on board, the city was cool with it, we had artifacts you could fill the old doc’s office with — it was working,” he said. “It just came down to seeing the numbers. The kind of boots on the ground and people you need to raise $10,000 a year indefinitely, I didn’t feel like we were quite there yet.”

“It’s probably one of the heartbreaking and difficult decisions I’ve made was to know this was out of our reach.”

On a positive note, though. Charles said since word got out last fall that the society was looking to find a permanent home for its collections, many people have contacted members about donations. “They’ll say, ‘When you get a museum, I’ll bring this old artifact,’” he said. “I realize our focus needs to be on a smaller scale; maybe a display case in the library or renting out a front window or corner somewhere in one of our downtown businesses, but we know now we definitely need to be showcasing our artifacts.”

“That said, if anyone reading (this) wants to buy the Lillesand house and give it to us and donate a bunch of money to make it a museum, and give us an endowment, I think we’re game,” Charles quipped. “You never know.”

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