Michigan man turns building into space for art, music
By RACHEL GRECO
Lansing State Journal
AP Member Exchange
CHARLOTTE, Mich. — Richard Turbin was newly-divorced and looking for something larger than life to throw himself into when he first discovered the space in downtown Charlotte.
Twenty-four years ago he needed a flash light to walk the 159-year-old property’s second and third floors with LeRoy Hummel, Charlotte’s building official.
“All the windows were boarded up all the way around the second and third floors, so it was darker than all get out up there,” Turbin told the Lansing State Journal . “You couldn’t see anything.”
Once home to an Independent Order of Odd Fellows lodge, it’s the tallest building on the block. The upper floors had been empty for three decades in 1993 and were to be sold at a foreclosure auction in just a few days.
“There was no heat, no electricity, no plumbing,” Turbin said.
But there was potential, so he bought it cheap, 12,000 square feet for just $1,250.
Turbin moved into the 18,000-square-foot building and started fixing it up. Three years later he bought the first floor, opening an antique shop on the ground level.
It has taken two and a half decades and more than $100,000 to realize his dream for the property — the creation of Windwalker Underground Gallery, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and supporting local art initiatives and artists themselves, some of who live in apartments on the building’s second floor.
In the process he breathed new life into the space that is, in many ways, a work of art itself.
Art work doesn’t just hang on the walls inside the gallery. Artists have chiseled pieces onto the length of a second-floor wall and spray painted others on the brick exterior.
Inside the building you’ll find exposed brick walls and original wood floors and high ceilings, but there’s also a 17-foot-long dream catcher sculpture accented by colored glass that hangs below a glass roof skylight, a first-floor stage and a third-floor ballroom with huge windows facing the city’s downtown.
There’s a koi pond on the third floor landing filled with fish, and a small room at the top of the building that opens, via glass doors, to the roof.
Turbin spent years gutting the building and restoring it, doing most of the grunt work himself.
“I took a building that was so undesirable,” Turbin said. “No one wanted it, but I knew exactly where I was going with it.”
On Friday nights and weekends the space is an entertainment venue. Comedians, musicians and storytellers perform on a first-floor stage during open mic nights and organized events. Movies are shown from a large projection screen, including a recent showing of the cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and art workshops are offered to the community.
The building is an art gallery too, serving as a creation and living space for a few resident artists who live in second-floor apartments there and other area artists who sell and show their work in the building.
“I love art,” Turbin said. “I live for art. My whole dream is to support the arts and to help the children of the community become involved in the arts. That’s what our mission is here.”
Kalli Dempsey, a member of Windwalker’s board, said the building’s beauty is the perfect backdrop for the nonprofit, which is now 2 years old.