For the past month, Robert Noe's to-do list has included finding a new home for dozens of 19th century law books and salvaged wood paneling from a former Chicago Marshall Field's store.
Noe, a Quad-City lawyer, is moving to a new office for the first time in more than 50 years. Bozeman, Neighbour, Patton & Noe, LLP, is the last tenant to move out of Moline's 5th Avenue building, at 1630 5th Ave., which is being converted into a new hotel by the Heart of America Group.
While the firm is only moving next door, to the historic Sears building, 1620 5th Ave., Noe said the move has brought up a lot of memories, as the lawyers clean out 70 years' worth of legal work.
"I came here in December 1966, so I came to work at that office for over 50 years," Noe said. "So it's been kind of hard for me to look around and see what I considered a beautiful office. Over the years, we really built that out, and in the 1980s, we had the finest stuff. I have office paneling brought in from what used to be a Marshall Field's Chicago department store. Just a beautiful double-paneled large office."
Virgil Bozeman founded BNPN in 1949 after World War II, Noe said. After a couple of years, he moved into the 5th Avenue building and joined forces with John Patton and Noe. Only five lawyers were involved at the time, but over the years, the firm took up more and more space on 5th Avenue.
As it grew to be one of the largest law firms in the Quad-Cities, BNPN's third floor offices were connected with a wing on the fourth floor, plus storage space in the basement. Eventually, 14 lawyers were working from three different wings.
"When you've been at a place this long, it's like a big house," Noe said. "You've been here so long you start to accumulate things."
Now, the building is largely empty. An extensive law library has been emptied out and books have been given away when possible. Decades-old furniture has been removed. And hundreds of index cards, used as a filing system before a computer system was implemented in the 1980s, have been discarded.
Bit by bit, the office has moved into the former Sears Roebuck department store, which was built in 1928, and more recently housed Barnett's Fireplaces. What was a concrete shell a few months ago is now a modern office space, with new skylights and windows, to accommodate BNPN.
Attorney and partner Jeffrey Jacobs said the new space is a mix of historic and modern features, with original wood flooring and grand staircase, plus new video conference technology in the old Sears display room. Partner Jeffrey Martens added the move has been a time to upgrade technology and reduce the firm’s footprint.
And while Noe has felt nostalgia cleaning out his office of five decades, the partners said the move has also been a time to reflect on Moline's changing downtown.
"We looked at a lot of options when it was time to think about moving, and it was really important to stay in Moline," Noe said. "We went through the bad days back in the '80s when things were really falling apart and there wasn't much down here. It was hard to find a place for lunch. Now you can walk down 5th Avenue and find anything you need."
And now, the law firm will have a new place to hold conferences and take clients to lunch, as the hotel will feature a restaurant and two reception halls, according to Heart of America.
"Anyone can see there's been growth on 5th Avenue in the past five to 10 years, and in the next year-and-a-half, there will be a four-star hotel," Jacobs said. "As (Noe) can attest, back in the '80s, the law firm was one of the biggest businesses down here. Being here for 70 years, it was a goal of ours to stay, and we felt it's important to be a part of the growth happening here."