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Downtown Then and Now

Images of the west side of the 400 block of Main Street from "Downtown Then and Now: Four Decades of Change," a special exhibition at the Photographic Design gallery, 411 Sixth St./Submitted photos

Think back to 1970s Racine. Can you picture how Downtown looked nearly 40 years ago? 

A special exhibition at the Photographic Design gallery, 411 Sixth St., can stir up such memories, or allow viewers to see the changes that have occurred along Main and Sixth streets since the 70s for the first time.

Called “Downtown Then and Now: Four Decades of Change,” the exhibit features two series of photographs — one composed of black and white photos of buildings in the 1970s and another recently shot series of color photos that depict the same buildings today.

The differences between the two series are striking, according to Brad Jaeck and Carol Hansen, owners of the Photographic Design studio and gallery, and photographers of the exhibit’s color photos.

“When you see where we were 40 years ago, you won’t believe the difference,” Jaeck said. “We’ve come a long way.”

The exhibit’s black and white photos were shot by Robert Hartmann, of Racine’s Hartmann Design firm. Hartmann, who has been involved with the design and preservation of Racine buildings for many years, shot the photos while working with a non-profit organization called Racine Urban Aesthetics, founded in the early 1970s with a grant from the Junior League.

Hartmann’s photos originally served as reference for a design manual he prepared for restoring Downtown buildings. Hanging next to the recent photos, they show the results of many efforts by individuals and organizations including the Downtown Racine Corporation, to restore Racine’s Downtown. Some of the most dramatic changes can be seen in the buildings that now house Dover Flag & Map, 323 Main St.; Funky Hannah’s Beads & Art, 324 Main St.; Plumb Gold, 322 Main St; Avenue Gallery & Frame Shop, 402 Main St.; and Lornacopia, 310 Sixth St; according to Hartmann.

“It took a lot of people with a lot of great ideas to get where we are today,” Jaeck said.

Jaeck and Hansen — who grew up in Racine — said their end of the project has been both fun and challenging. The couple tried to shoot each photo from the same angle that Hartmann did, and waited for just the right light to make comparable shots.

“We’ve been working on it for several months and in talking to people along the way, we’ve heard some really great stories,” Jaeck said.

Another challenge came in deciding how to exhibit the photos, Hansen said. The photographers eventually spliced the prints together to create one long (7 by 50 inches) photo of each city block.

When the show comes down at the end of September, she and Jaeck are hoping to donate the collection of prints to an organization or venue that could preserve them, such as the Racine Heritage Museum, Preservation Racine or City Hall.


WHAT: “Downtown Then and Now: Four Decades of Change,” a photo exhibition

WHERE: Photographic Design gallery, 411 Sixth St. 

WHEN: The exhibit opens today with a reception during Downtown’s First Friday, from 6 to 9 p.m. Gallery hours are noon to 9 p.m. today; and from noon to 5 p.m. Fridays and noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays, throughout the rest of August. The exhibit will continue through the end of September (September gallery hours are to be announced). 

COST: Free

INFO: Call Photographic Design at (262) 633-9899.

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