Chesterton Tribune

Hear the whistle blow: Duneland Chamber moves into the depot

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The new office of the Duneland Chamber of Commerce, in the historic New York Central passenger depot at 220 Broadway, is only 400 square feet larger than the old one across the street.

But somehow it seems twice as large. And infinitely more comfortable and charming.

"We're not gaining that much in space," Executive Director Laurie Franke-Polz told the Chesterton Tribune Thursday, "but it works better. Plus I like the ambiance."

Typically, she said, the chambers of commerce in small towns like Chesterton take up residence in older buildings, as a way of establishing their commitment to the community. Leased to the Chamber by the Town of Chesterton, the 87-year-old depot--last used by a commuter train in 1964--is a reminder of the way things used to be here, busy and prosperous, but also a pledge of things to come. "This has been a good move for us. I think it gives a more permanent location for the Chamber. And it cements in the minds of the community that we're here to stay."

Although the Chamber moved into its new digs just a week ago, Franke-Polz and her staff are already squared away and their quarters shipshape, thanks in large part to the efforts of an army of volunteers who converged on the depot to paint it, fix it, and organize it.

Twenty-six members answered the call-out for help to paint the interior, she said--a mint green on dark green which roughly duplicates the old colors of the New York Central--and in a single day managed to do the whole thing: walls, brick, and trim.

The kitchenette, on the other hand, proved something of a challenge. Jeff Larson, who teaches voc-ed at Chesterton High School, had his students work on the plumbing, a good lesson for them, Franke-Polz said, inasmuch as it gave them an opportunity to work on seldom-seen copper and iron piping. But the 17-inch solid brick wall stymied the kids, and so Rudy Sutton of R V Sutton Inc. was good enough to volunteer a core drill, a crew, and a couple of hours to finish the job.

Then PMS, Professional Moving Services, a new Chamber member, furnished the brute strength to make the actual move, in exchange for "creative in-kind service," she said. "They basically came in and packed and moved."

In all likelihood, however, the Chamber would never have considered the depot as a home had not its former occupant, Charlie Ray and his Duneland Group, refurbished the building and "brought it back as much as possible to its original condition," she noted.

To Ray goes much of the credit for the placement of the depot, in August 1998, on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Franke-Polz also tipped her hat to the town itself, which offered the Chamber the long-term lease it was seeking. "I like the partnership with the town," she said. "I think it's a good partnership and it will continue to be a good partnership."

Franke-Polz has set up her own office in what she believes was the telegraph room of the depot, a portion of the building which juts out oddly from the main structure and has windows cut to the north, east, and west. From her desk Franke-Polz has a clear view up and down the tracks, as the telegrapher would have the better part of a century ago. The original ticket window is also cut in the interior wall of her office and opens into the lobby of the Chamber.

Although Franke-Polz had initially planned to install three-quarter height glass partitions to provide a little privacy--especially for the conference area--she has since reconsidered. "I like it all open," Franke-Polz said. "It feels right. I don't know if we'll need to put in the three-quarter walls."

But the depot is nicely compartmentalized and offers her two full-time staffers, Bookkeeper and Office Manager Marilyn Zengler and Administrative Assistant Julie Brown, a lot of "workable space." It has a basement as well with plenty of storage area. "It's very well organized," she said. "We know where everything is. Everything has a spot. Even the Christmas creche."

The depot may have one drawback, however. Not surprisingly, the trains themselves.

"I'm a train buff," Franke-Polz said. "I have been all my life." And so, unable to resist the opportunity to watch a day's worth of trains ply the tracks mere feet from her windows, she opened her blinds. But if Franke-Polz could see the trains, their engineers could just as easily see her. "They were slowing down and waving at me and blowing their horns."

Then she closed the blinds. "And it ceased."