There are those who study and those who do, but it takes the right combination to get anything positive done. If you only study, nothing happens and if you only do, most people will wish you had done nothing at all. Agents of change do both, and this typifies David and Susan Millstein.
In 1972, they had a small surplus building on Vermont Street and got a tip that the Ridenour and Baker building (804 Mass St.) was available. They knew this building was the first to be restored after Quantrill’s raid, and in 1888 became home to Barfelde’s Seed Co. It remained so until 1963. The Millsteins moved in, kept the architecture true and started Sunflower Surplus. Two years later, they bought 803 Mass St. (across the street) and transformed it into the Casbah. They served as the general contractors for both buildings, used architectural salvage, and were the primary tenants. For nearly half a century, these buildings have served as anchors for the north end of Mass Street.
Newcomers to modern-day Lawrence might not know that at one time there were plans to re-build Mass St. into a downtown covered mall, destroying the historic city center. At the time, La Prima Tazza & the Raven Bookstore were not yet open on the 600 block of Mass St. as the majority of the block was blighted. The present-day Free State Brewery housed a bus station, and the nearby opera house was a run-down, drab facility.
Along with others, the Millsteins successfully fought this mall plan and were responsible for renovating many of the buildings.
When a terrible fire almost destroyed 804 Mass St. in 1997, they did not walk away. They rebuilt it in a way that respects the original design of the 1888 renovation following Quantrill’s raid. David and Susan Millstein are responsible for keeping downtown Lawrence as one of the greatest downtowns in America --- from City Hall to the Watkins Museum to the Douglas County courthouse. Lawrence would not be what it is today if David and Susan had not begun studying and doing their work in 1972. The LPA is absolutely delighted to present them with a Preservation Achievement Award.