The Mountain Times

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Historic building gets facelift for Rutland's western gateway

Rutland's gateway from the west should be inviting, an invitation to both occasional visitors and those who use it frequently. But scaffolding around the tan Art Deco building at 173 West Street has disfigured this important entrance for most of the past five years, snagged on the delineator between past and present.


Built about 1930 to house John L. Cootey's growing automotive dealership, the two-story building reflected the prevalent design of the time. Art Deco represented the new machine age, with crisp, straight, orderly lines, glass blocks for natural light with privacy, and stylized trim.


When the U.S. Postal Service began making repairs to the exterior of what was now the post office annex, it failed to take into account Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, requiring any federal agency to consult with the appropriate historical preservation body before starting work on a historic property. Instead, the USPS began demolishing the terra cotta façade.

The Vermont Division of Historic Preservation was forced to request that the work stop, says Devin Colman, state architectural historian for Vermont. At that time, the state believed that although there were other terra cotta façade Art Deco structures in Vermont, the Cootey building was the only one constructed with polychrome facing.

After a lengthy consultation process, the two parties reached an agreement. The damaged portions of the building's historic polychrome terra cotta Art Deco façade were to be rehabbed with new terra cotta.

However, a closer examination sets 173 West St. even further apart from the others. All the other frequently cited Art Deco structures - the Flynn Theatre in Burlington, the W.G. Grant building in Springfield and its twin in Newport, the Latchis Hotel and Theatre in Brattleboro, and the former Montgomery Ward building and the turreted Service Building on Rutland's Merchants Row - are faced with other materials.

The Cootey building is Vermont's sole example of terra cotta work.

Social scientists and community developers have increasingly emphasized retention of as many representative building styles and materials as are consistent with a given community's history. Doing so retains that indefinable "sense of place" that gives each locale its own individuality, makes it "home" to the people who live there.

Lest an insistence on matching the original terra cotta exterior seem like an unreasonable demand, Colman is quick to say that terra cotta itself is still commonly used as a building material. "The trick is to make a mold and match the original," he says.
A recent agreement between the State Historic Preservation Office and the USPS calls for not only fabricating new terra cotta tiles for the building's exterior, but also replacing broken glass panels, refurbishing steel frame windows, and removing lead paint and asbestos. All is likely to be complete by late 2014.

How does this building fit into Rutland's history?

TIMELINE

The former John L. Cootey dealership, 169-173 West Street, represented a new age when it was built. The building's Art Deco detailing, like the automobiles inside, represented modernity. When the dealership first opened, automotive shoppers had theirchoice of Packard, Hudson, and Essex (also made by Hudson) cars.

Reading back issues of the Rutland city directories, available online through the Rutland Historical Society, one can see the story of the automobile's ascendancy. In the 1927 directory, John L. Cootey appears as secretary-manager of Rutland Motor Sales, boarding with Susie D. Cootey, the widow of Thomas A. Cootey, living at 40 Washington Street.

Two years later, John L. Cootey was an automobile dealer himself, performing general repairing, oiling and greasing, as well as sales. The business telephone number was 1261 with no prefix, and the dealership was at 64 West Street.

By the 1933 directory, his business had grown and his dealership had been built. He employed Robert Aldrich as a salesman and Christine LaVeccia as a stenographer at the "Cootey garage," located at the same address, but in the rear of the building. A full-page advertisement features a photograph of the two-story building. His growing enterprise serviced "all makes," and also offered storage and car washing among its services. He enjoyed a higher social position, financial officer in American Legion Post 31, which met at 14 Cottage Street.

The Essex had been replaced by the Terraplane in 1935. Cootey's sales staff was larger: Rufus F. Walker joined Aldrich in the sales department; Fletcher E. Brush was an auto mechanic, Ovila J. Blanchard was the garage service manager, and George R. Cahee was an additional employee. The business ad (page 53) was an illustration of the Packard One Twenty, "worthy member of a distinguished family."

Buyers in 1937 could choose a Packard with six, eight, or twelve cylinders, costing $950 to $6,000 delivered, or a Hudson or Terraplane with six or eight cylinders, $790 to $1,400 delivered. The 1937 directory also includes a photo of the dealership, showing its distinctive Art Deco trim.

Had tightening economic conditions begun to affect Cootey's business by the time the 1939 directory was published? His advertisement is smaller; so is his product line, now Packard and Hudson. His staff, though, seems a bit larger. Faith Perry is the company bookkeeper. Aldrich, Blanchard, Brush, and Cahee still work there, and "employees" include Jason Billado, Frederick Fredette, Mirti Angelo and Lloyd Fair, while Lyle Morse is now part of the sales team.

Cootey's business survived the Depression that annihilated so many businesses of the time. We can pick up his story in the 1947 directory - no Rutland directories were published in 1941, 1943, or 1945. John L. Cootey had become a director of the Killington National Bank of Rutland and president of the Rutland Chamber of Commerce, which had offices in the Mead Building. He and his wife Dorothy lived at 122 Bellevue Ave.

The auto dealership sold Cadillacs, Pontiacs, and Packards. It also sold Delco auto batteries, and performed oiling and greasing, towing and wrecking, and automotive washing. Two other Cooteys, presumably his sons, worked for him. George F. lived at 122 Belllevue; Thomas A. was married to Ellen and lived at 8 Melrose Ave.

Success for the dealership supported an even larger staff at 173 West Street, including five mechanics and eight "employees." Robert T. Aldrich has become the business's sales manager, and William C. Ryan has joined the sales staff. There are now three female employees: clerk Eris M. deBianco, garage cashier Alice McLellan, and secretary Gena Ribolini.

The changing role of the automobile shows up in the 1949 directory. The dealership has added General Motors truck sales and service to its advertising. It has two telephone lines, one for sales (1261) and the other for service (1262).

Romance also shows up in the directory. Formerly a clerk, Eris deBianco is now a bookkeeper and married to the boss's son George. George, his dad John, Robert Aldrich, and William C. Ryan are co-owners. The business cashier is now Alice Martin, presumably the former Alice McLellan.

Position titles are also in flux. John R, Brough is now a buyer for the company. While Charles M. Duffy is the company service manager, Lynn E. Harris is parts manager. Two employees - Edwin N. Smith and Robert L. Webb - list their position as "janitor."
The business had incorporated by 1951, now listed as John L. Cootey Inc., with John as president; Robert Aldrich, vice president; William C. Ryan, treasurer; and George F. Cootey, clerk of corporation. Robert Eddy, Robert D. Roach, and Harry B. Townsend are salesmen. John L. Cootey, in addition to remaining a director of Killington Bank & Trust Company, was also a vice president of Rutland Hospital, still at 46 Nichols Avenue.

No directory was published in 1953. By 1955, significant changes have appeared. The staff appears to have shrunk, perhaps because the dealership is no longer selling Packards or GMC products. Killington Motors at 270 S. Main now carries the GMC line. The company has added automobile painting to its list of services.

William C. Ryan has a business in Brandon. Perhaps Cootey is slowing down a little; he is still a director of Killington Bank & Trust Company, but not an officer. Rutland now has telephone exchanges; the business is back to a single phone line, PR 3-3308. Mrs. Cootey is recording secretary of the Rutland Garden Club.

Additional changes have occurred by the time the 1957 directory is published. The business now sells used cars, and John F. Brough is the used car manager. Commuting must be easier than in earlier years; he lives in Castleton. Wheel balancing is yet another service the company offers, while automobile greasing has taken on the more sophisticated description of 'lubrication.'
Another gap in directories appears in 1959; none was published that year.

The 1961 directory displays what is seemingly the same picture the company has been using for a number of editions. The Tempest has joined Cadillac and Pontiac in the dealership's sales lineup, and general car repairs, body and fender work, and 24-hour road and towing service are listed. Is their inclusion a sign that business is slowing? The Cooteys now have a telephone at home as well as at work.

Robert Aldrich is no longer listed as part of the company; he appears to be the salesman at Stowell Corp., selling cars at 263 S. Main. George F. Cootey seems to have left the family business, now an engineer at GE Burlington.

Time has brought even more changes by 1963. The senior Cootey seems to likely be retired, still director of a bank, but that is now called Vermont Bank & Trust. He is also trustee of the Veteran Soldiers Home in Bennington. His building at 173 West St. is now known as Franklin Pontiac-Cadillac with Frank A. Vasos as its president. For the first time in 30 years, the business at that location has no display advertising in the city directory. Nor are any members of the Cootey family listed in the residential portion of the local city directory.

The business had scheduled a move when the 1965 directory was ready for publication, with plans to re-locate at 80 Main St., "next to the drive-in" in August. Its quarter-page ad promised the most efficient, newest service and sales building anywhere, the home of "Franklinized 'new'" used cars, complete with financing. Frank A. Vasos remained company president.
In 1967, 173 West Street was vacant. Vasos was president of Franklin Leasing Corp., and of Franklin Pontiac-Cadillac Inc.
Killington Manufacturing Company made or wholesaled gloves in the building according to the 1969 directory. Company president was Henry Veghte Jr, with Isaac Miller vice president and Edmund Shaw treasurer.

Management changed in the succeeding two years. President-treasurer became Bernard Montant, while Richard Riker was vice president-secretary. It appears they may also have lived in the building or at least used it as their primary address.
After a four-year gap (the 1973 directory was not published), 173 West St. was vacant again. The change in its circumstances may have been quite recent, considering that the company name is still listed at that location under the category 'gloves.' It could be that its only employee was Anthony Bizarro.

From 1980 through at least 1996, the building was home to the local office of the State Department of Employment and Training, says long-time employee Dave Colburn. The unemployment office occupied the front part of the building with its glass, while the job services offices were in darker space in the building's rear. When the state offices first moved in, he remembers there being a roller rink on the second floor, quiet in the morning, but decidedly noisy in the afternoon. After the roller rink moved out, the second level was converted to office space. He believes Henry Veghte owned 173 West St., renting it to the state until selling it to the post office.