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Olde Ice House owners receive award for restoring, repurposing crumbling Downtown building

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27 E. Locust St. Lodi CA

Posted: Saturday, July 13, 2013 12:00 am

When new owners enter older buildings for renovation, they expect dust and cobwebs. Maybe some garbage left over from the previous tenant. They don’t expect established bat colonies 2,000 strong, or walls and roofs filled with redwood shavings instead of modern insulation.

But Gregg Lewis, owner of the Dancing Fox Winery & Bakery, and Dean Shibler, an insurance agent in Stockton, bought the place anyway because of its perfect size and location for winemaking.

The Olde Ice House at 27 E. Locust St. received a community improvement award on Friday for all the work the owners have put into restoring it to a working building. The award was presented by Sunil Yadav, a member of the Lodi Improvement Committee, and Joseph Wood, manager of the Neighborhood Services Division.

Currently, two Lodi wineries call the place home. Jessie’s Grove, based out on Turner Road, uses the front as a tasting room and stores barrels on location. Dancing Fox Winery, based on School Street, uses the site for making wine and storage as well. The barrel room can store 1,200 barrels of wine, and the production room holds 12,000 cases of bottled wine.

The original Union Ice House was a stopping point for produce before the turn of the century. Lewis estimates it was built in the late 1880s. By the late ’20s, the building was used to freeze ice and pack shipping crates of fresh fruit.

A massive crane made of Carnegie steel hangs in what is now the barrel room. It moved large blocks and 300-pound cans of ice from where it was frozen and cut on the floor to bins of Flame Tokay grapes. Some got shaved ice, others ordered crushed ice, and some growers wanted cubes on their produce.

Railcars were iced down for long cross country shipping trips to Chicago and New York. Grapes were bought in lots by appearance, so a farmer’s livelihood depended on how well his grapes survived the trip.

The ability of Lodi shippers to get fresh fruit to distant markets turned into a successful business venture for decades at the turn of the century.

Residents of Lodi also bought ice for their households from a window on the east side of the Ice House.

Later, when Lodi began shipping more wine and less fresh fruit, the house was used by Birdseye as a packing center for frozen food.

The building was never truly abandoned, but it did become run-down and a site for some trouble. Local bands would practice in a back room, but the sessions could turn into parties of 200 or more people, said Joseph Wood. At one point, the place was used as storage by an auto mechanic, with parts and equipment strewn about.

Renovation work began in 2011, and the building reopened as a tasting room in August 2012.

The floors of the tasting room are made from the original ipe wood planks that lined the floor of the ice room. The original brick walls still stand, and are exposed on the inside of the large barrel room.

The thick walls were once lined with six inches of cork oak and the interior walls were packed with redwood sawdust for insulation. The cork has been removed, save for a small sample above a doorway leading into the barrel room. Nearly all the redwood shavings remain, because of the mess it made when Lewis cut into the wall.

“It got everywhere. We decided we liked the walls as they were,” he said.

The front of the house — now the tasting room — was essentially a bat cave. A tile roof covered the room, topped with 12 inches of sawdust for insulation. A colony of 2,000 bats called the place home on their migration route each year. Workers had to wait until the bats flew out in an energetic stream, then screen up and block off their former home.

The main challenge was in bringing the 130-year-old building up to modern building codes.

“Making the place (compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act) was costly. That’s making it pretty hard to do business in California,” Lewis said.

Shibler had a more visual understanding of the work.

“It was like peeling an onion. Layers and years of work to uncover and undo,” he said.

Despite the dust and bats, both owners say the place is worth it. It’s got good truck access on Main Street, and the size was right for expansive winemaking needs. Plus, the building’s past life as an ice house makes for great climate control for wine in storage.

“It’s a great location, close to the Dancing Fox, so I can go back and forth all day,” said Lewis.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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