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Wednesday, 30 December 2015 10:56

Janesville Messenger's 2015 year in review

Written by  CSI Media staff
Golden shovels are lined up for the April groundbreaking of the new Janesville Central Fire Station on Milton Avenue. The project is expected to be completed by the middle of this year. Community members can tour the construction progress from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 9. Reserve a tour spot by calling 608-755-3103 or sending an email to hrdlickam@ci.janesville.wi.us. Golden shovels are lined up for the April groundbreaking of the new Janesville Central Fire Station on Milton Avenue. The project is expected to be completed by the middle of this year. Community members can tour the construction progress from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 9. Reserve a tour spot by calling 608-755-3103 or sending an email to [email protected] Dan Plutchak

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- Sometimes it seems like the days take forever, but the months fly by.   

   In a year that seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, some of the most notable stories of 2015 clearly illustrated how quickly things can change in our communities.

And some of those stories showed how, even as time moves on, we still cling tightly to our familiar and cherished ways.

As we begin a new year, we look back on these five stories that stood out in a year that showed us how much life can change, whether we’re ready or not:

1. Fire department building for a new era

The new Janesville central fire station is taking shape after groundbreaking marked the start of construction in April. The 31,500-square-foot station, located on Milton Avenue, will replace a station built in 1957.

Residents can get a firsthand look at the progress with construction site tours from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 9. Tours will begin every 30 minutes with groups meeting in the bay of the current fire station at 303 Milton Ave.

The deadline to register for a tour is 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6. For more information, call 608-755-3103 or send an email to

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The new station, set to be complete by mid-year, will feature a central administration area, conference room and training area. Officials said the current station no longer meets the city’s needs, as calls for service have increased dramatically over the decades the current station has been operating.

The new station also will include a larger apparatus bay for equipment and vehicles.

“Vehicles have gotten a lot bigger since 1957 when we built (the current fire station),” Deputy Chief James Ponkauskas said in April. “So, we’re going to have a little more breathing room.”

Janesville resident Bill McCoy had filed a lawsuit against the city to stop construction of the $9 million project; however, he dropped that portion of his lawsuit in September.

The department plans to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new station once it is completed. The current fire station will then be demolished.

2. Milton fire station

lacking, as is funding

While the Janesville Fire Department broke ground on its new fire station, the Milton Fire Department was discussing needs for its own fire station in 2015.

Deputy Chief Chris Lukas said the fire station had structural issues including bricks settling, a deteriorating front façade and mold in the apparatus bay. Lukas also said the roof needs to be replaced and several areas of the building aren’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Any event where we would want to use the upstairs for, we’re not ADA compliant, so we really can’t use that for anything that the public may want to attend,” Lukas told the Messenger in May.

The station also does not have separate restroom and dorm facilities for male and female firefighters.

“Currently if a female would need to take a shower here at the beginning of her shift or at the end of her shift, they would have to use the shower in the men’s room,” Lukas said.

A new fire station would cost between $3 million and $5 million. Earlier in the year, the Milton City Council approved a resolution authorizing the city to borrow $1.35 million to fund renovations to the city’s public library and Parkview Drive, which put the construction of a new fire station on hold.

“The city isn’t in the position to take on any other capital improvement projects with a large expense until about 2019 or 2020,” Lukas said.

The fire station was constructed mostly by firefighters in 1976.

3. Edgerton warehouses popular for loft living

In a city that was the center of the tobacco industry in Wisconsin a century ago, local history is taking on a new shape.

A towering warehouse in downtown Edgerton that once held stacked pallets of tobacco leaves destined for cigars is being transformed into Legacy Lofts, with apartments featuring exposed brick walls, solid wooden beams and 10- to 17-foot-high ceilings.

Renovation began last fall, and the first tenants are slated to move in by April.

Legacy Lofts is the third Edgerton tobacco warehouse-turned-apartment project for developer -- and taxidermist -- Dan Rinehart, owner of Rinehart Properties Inc.

In 2002, Rinehart, looking for space for his taxidermy business, ended up buying eight vacant warehouses -- from 17,000 to 73,000 square feet -- from the Swisher International Tobacco Co.

During its heyday, Edgerton -- once dubbed “Tobacco City USA” -- had more than 50 warehouses.

In 2011, with financing help from the city, Rinehart turned his first warehouse into an apartment.

He isn’t surprised his first two apartments are fully rented. Part of the appeal, he said, is Edgerton itself, with a population of about 5,500, situated between Janesville and Madison with easy access to the interstate.

“And the truth was, we just had to build the right kind of place to attract people. If you build regular little cookie-cutter apartments, that just won't work,” Rinehart said. “You couldn’t build a building like this today even if you wanted to. The type of skills and craftsmen it takes ... don’t exist anymore.”

4. Unique ’40s homes

are ‘steel’ standing

As our neighborhoods change around us, sometimes the grand ideas of the past begin to fade from memories. That may be the case with the few remaining Lustron homes in the Stateline area.

As we reported Nov. 1, these unique, all-metal homes were built for the growing number of young families setting down roots during the post-World War II housing boom.

The homes dot the Stateline area and can be found in Beloit, Janesville and Lake Geneva, to name a few of the cities where these homes have been preserved.

Square enameled steel panels -- known as Lustron for its “luster on steel” -- had been used in the 1940s to build businesses, but a residential version was the brainchild of Illinois inventor Carl Strandlund. He thought Lustrons could be built quickly as scores of veterans returned to the states, marrying and starting families in their own new homes.

His Ohio-based manufacturing company could churn out 100 prefabricated steel houses a day, according to some estimates. A grand total of 2,553 Lustrons were built between 1948 and 1950, before the company, tied up in financial and political difficulties, filed for bankruptcy.

While the designs primarily were simple rectangles and the colors were limited to tan, blue, green or gray, the ranch-style homes proved immensely popular with buyers. The homes’ steel exteriors and interiors were touted as maintenance free. Their cost averaged between $8,000 and $15,000.

5. Drive-ins satisfy taste for nostalgia

Entrepreneurs have been offering roadside food like burgers and shakes for drivers as far back as the 1920s, but drive-ins were golden in the 1950s.

The explosion of fast-food chains saw them fade, but a few area drive-ins still operate, even thrive.

Annie’s Burger Town in Elkhorn is a converted Dog n Suds that’s now a year-round drive-in with a menu that includes homemade Italian beef and soups.

Gus’s Drive-in in East Troy features plenty of glowing neon, a custard-of-the-day menu and even a classic car night that draws car buffs for miles around.

Bing’s Drive-in, a 60-year-old Rockford, Illinois, landmark, boasts outdoor menus with built-in speakers.

Former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith once dropped in at the Dog n Suds in Richmond, Illinois, a mainstay since 1963. Owner Matt Maciejewski said people are surprised to see car hops bringing their orders.

Ken Kline purchased the A&W Restaurant in Janesville in 1976. Now his son, Bob, is the owner.  

“Back in the early ’50s and ’60s, there were four drive-ins in a half-mile strip here,” Ken Kline said. “Now we’re the only one left.”

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