Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
An old building in Wellman is in the process of getting a new life.
Austin Bayliss, a Wellman businessman and event promoter, and his wife, Kelsey, recently purchased the Driscoll Studio Building at 257 Eighth Ave.
'The building was built in 1906,” Bayliss said. 'It was an opera house and entertainment hub.”
He said that bands and orchestras regularly played concerts in the building in its early days.
In 1913, the lower level was divided into two sides.
One side housed a movie theater, while the other side housed an ice cream parlor, a pool hall, a series of restaurants and a salon.
'The theater was there until 1958,” Bayliss said.
The side that housed Driscoll Studio of Framing, a custom frame shop, was last renovated in 1959.
Mary Ellen Driscoll, who owed the building and operated the studio for many years, died in November 2020.
In January, Bayliss purchased the building from her estate, with an eye on restoring the building to its former glory.
'Our experience is live events,” Bayliss said. 'It's something we're passionate about.”
Bayliss, who promotes live wrestling events in the region, said he had been looking for space large enough to host events.
After seeing the space in the building and learning its history, he believed he found the right spot.
'I'd like to gut both sides and open up a multipurpose live event facility,” Bayliss said. 'A multipurpose space is our passion.”
He envisioned hosting live wrestling events, concerts and flea markets in the space. He even sees a possibility of utilizing the old projection room to livestream high school sporting events.
That vision, though, is not set in stone.
'We're still open to ideas,” Bayliss said. 'Our initial thought was to renovate and attract new businesses to Wellman. There's been a lot of interest in a coffee shop or an ice cream shop in Wellman.
'We would like to keep it open to the public, however that works out.”
Their first priority, though, is renovating the second level of the building, which used to be the local roller-skating rink.
It now houses four two-bedroom apartments that have fallen into disrepair.
'I would like to shrink it down to six one-bedroom or studio apartments with a unique view of Wellman,” Bayliss said. 'We saw a need for housing in Wellman.”
He said he hopes to have the apartments ready by this time next year.
Regardless of what they finally decide to put in the building, they hope it will benefit the city of Wellman.
'That building is almost 120 years old,” Bayliss said. 'Now is the time to preserve it and make sure it's an asset to the community.”