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Friday, January 20, 2012

Lee Lewis, owner of the Davis Building, stands inside the hand-operated elevator in the building. Signatures from the early 1900s cover the walls inside the elevator. Lee wants to preserve the signatures as much as she can. [Order this photo]
* Area woman has vision for Davis Building

A local historical building is being renovated, and the owner is hoping to see part of her vision become a reality by spring.

In 2010, Lee Lewis bought the Davis Building, 115 W. National Ave., Brazil, after seeing it while driving through Brazil for the first time.

Lee explained she had been feeling depressed and sad after going through a divorce. Her father had suggested going to a church in Brazil.

"We drove past it," she said. "I pulled over and looked at the building. Everything I love architecturally was there."

Part of the Davis Building used to house the Davis Trust Company, a bank that went bankrupt during the Great Depression. Lee Lewis, owner of the building, wants to restore the bank's vault and turn the inside into a small gift shop. The vault is located in the room that will become Cool Beans Coffee and Deli. [Order this photo]
She described the building, formerly a bank, as having limestone, marble, mosaic tile, tin roofs and skylights -- everything she loves. The building was for sale, and Lee wrote the phone number down.

Eventually she called just for fun to see the inside of the building.

"When I walked in the door, I knew I was in love," she said. "I started a love affair. I just felt it -- this desire to fix it. But, of course, I had no money."

After looking at the building multiple times, Lee said the real estate agent told her she felt the building had been built just for her.

"I kept thinking, praying and pondering," Lee said. "It's a miracle in itself how the finances came together. I'm just a normal person, but I have some skills. I've been doing restoration all my life. I'm not afraid of a big project. You eat an elephant one bite at a time."

Lee, a painter, has been doing just that -- working on the building one piece at a time.

In September 2011, she remarried, and now she and her husband, Tony, are renovating the 20,000 square-foot building together. They live on the second floor of the building after turning some offices into a living space.

"My husband and I have the same work ethic and same vision for the building," she said. "He's not scared or overwhelmed either."

Lee is working two jobs to pay for the payments of the building and materials for the renovations. Currently, she and her husband are cutting holes in walls to run wiring, working on dry wall, putting up crown molding and starting a plumbing project.

"Our goal was to get glass into the old bank area, which we did," she said. "The windows are gone, and there are holes in the floors. There's so much to do."

Lee said the biggest help they've had was when Historic Indiana Landmarks invested in the building.

"They put a new roof on the building, which saved it," Lee said. "It gave it longevity to survive. They also had the building bundled up tight enough that vandalism wasn't a problem. They have kept this building from demolition; it's almost in its original state."

In the ballroom area of the building, Lee and Tony need to scrape, paint, install public bathrooms and a heating system and repair the floors.

"If you can do the work yourself, it gives you the liberty to save all that money," Lee said.

The upstairs of the building is full of office spaces. The Lewis' plan to turn offices 1-8 into a condo where they will live. For now, they are living in offices 10-12 until they can afford to renovate the front space on the second floor. The other rooms will be for office space and an art gallery.

"We'd like to get local artists who are interested in displaying and selling their work to use the space," Lee said. "Maybe someone would like a space up here to do their work too."

Lee is selling a piece of property to finance the means to start up a coffee shop and deli on the first floor called Cool Beans Coffee and Deli.

"I'm a painter, but I'm also a baker," she said. "I have multiple things I like to do, which is a real blessing."

She chose the name Cool Beans because when her two sons were little, she told them she invented the saying, "cool beans."

"I made up this big story about it," she said. "When I started thinking about the name, I just thought, 'Cool beans!'"

Lee had her own restaurant at the age of 18 and stayed in the business for 6 years. She started in the food industry when she was 14 as a waitress.

"I love people, and I love food," she said. "I bake my own bread, make soups from scratch and make things no one else makes."

The shop will have coffee, sandwiches, salads, cakes, pies and much more.

"We do the real thing," she said. "Peel our own potatoes and everything. Everything is homemade."

The Lewis' are aiming to open Cool Beans this spring.

"We already have the equipment," Lee said. "We already have the secret recipes. We just need a heating/cooling system, electrical and plumbing. The space is ready for us to start. We're just waiting on something to sell."

As for the whole building, Lee said, "It's fun to believe you could do it in five years. I hate that it has to do with money, but it does. Money and time."

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Can't wait until you open. Brazil needs a place like yours. Since "Company's Coming" closed, there hasn't been a place with really good recipes for homemade soups, breads, etc. My friends and I will be there on opening day. Good Luck and I hope the coffee shop is everything you have dreamed about.

-- Posted by waterless on Fri, Jan 20, 2012, at 7:04 PM

I'm glad this building is getting saved, so many of the historic buildings in this town are being torn down. It's a shame someone didn't save the John Vane's Boiler Works building. Once they're gone that's it.

-- Posted by JimJim69 on Fri, Jan 20, 2012, at 7:59 PM

I too can't wait for her dream to come true. I'll be in line behind you waterless, lol

-- Posted by myownlittleworld on Fri, Jan 20, 2012, at 11:24 PM

I've known Lee several years. She's always been a cheerful looking person, but this journey she's currently on, coupled by her recent marriage has really made her explode with joy. God is enriching Lee like so many of us has prayed He would! We love you Lee!!

-- Posted by steve47834 on Sun, Jan 22, 2012, at 8:27 AM

History is our legacy. Well done.

-- Posted by Combat VET on Tue, Jan 24, 2012, at 8:41 AM

Whoo hoo......awesome story! The very best of luck to you Miss Lee!

-- Posted by Proud of My Country on Tue, Jan 24, 2012, at 11:55 AM

What an awesome find...Good luck to you and I cannot wait until you open!

-- Posted by clgruener on Tue, Jan 24, 2012, at 2:41 PM

Nice story...but Brian Boyce wrote a better article about this in the Tribune-Star over a month ago.

-- Posted by goknights on Wed, Jan 25, 2012, at 8:13 AM

Yes, that is true!

-- Posted by Proud of My Country on Wed, Jan 25, 2012, at 11:34 AM

I will be in line with the thrones of others, waiting to try this new place out!

Thank you for restoring some of Brazil's history, Ms. Lee!!

-- Posted by Emmes on Thu, Jan 26, 2012, at 11:06 AM

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