If some of my articles were novels, the main characters would never speak.
Reporting on construction and real estate, a lot of times I find myself writing about buildings. On Monday, I wrote about a building in Brown Deer that has gone through two sheriff’s sales and a former police and fire station in Greendale that could be demolished.
In the case of the Brown Deer building, it has been vacant for more than three years. When I went out for a visit a few months ago, the lawn was vibrant and choked with dandelions, but the half-finished, skeletal building was quiet and still, as if nothing new had happened there for a long time.
In Greendale, the building is a brick hulk with sun-bleached shingles squatting at the edge of a parking lot. It has been vacant since 1998 and is one of the reasons the village was given national historic landmark status. But the village is considering letting the right developer knock it down and start fresh, despite warnings from the National Park Service that Greendale could lose its designation.
I found plenty of people to talk to me about both buildings, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough. When my articles focus more clearly on people, I would not talk to all the people around the main subject but intentionally skip out on that all-important interview.
It sounds like that old cliché about walls talking and spilling years’ worth of secrets, but it’s not that light-hearted.
Often, the stories are held in those old walls. Some buildings have stood longer than my sources have been alive. These buildings have withstood changing administrations and businesses. They are the root of stories, but I can only talk to the people who might have once stood inside them.
In a novel, those people would amount to supporting characters.
I can only hope I’m choosing the right cast.