A list of the Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois was announced today at a press conference in Springfield.
Now in its 21st year, this statewide list calls attention to threatened historic resources in need of assistance in the form of responsible stewardship, creative reuse plans, and/or advances in public policy. The slow economic recovery in many places, state budget crisis, and a lack of available financing continue to challenge historic sites throughout Illinois.
“The sites named to the list are all exceptionally important to not only local residents, but the local economy,” said Bonnie McDonald, President of Landmarks Illinois. “By calling attention to the potential for reuse and revitalization of these historic places, we are encouraging job creation and economic development across Illinois – something everyone can support.”
The properties on this year’s list are: a century old YWCA, an Art Moderne armory, a WPA-era courthouse, a space-age bank, a historic high school and its surrounding neighborhood, multiple neighborhood schools to be closed in two cities, an archdiocesan church scheduled for closing, an historic gentleman’s farm in a forest preserve, a city-owned stately mansion on the North Shore, and two buildings associated with the early reform movement of rehabilitating orphaned boys.
Since the inception of Landmarks Illinois’ Most Endangered list in 1995, a third of the listed properties have been saved, less than a quarter have been demolished, and the rest are in varying stages between being continually threatened and rehabilitation.
Landmarks Illinois has been working to protect historic places throughout Illinois for 45 years. The not-for-profit works with citizens and communities to preserve historic places and promote awareness about them through education and advocacy. Landmarks Illinois preserves historic places that enhance communities, empower citizens, and catalyze local economic development throughout Illinois. In addition to the Most Endangered list, the organization also sponsors an annual awards program, two grant programs, and educational events. Landmarks Illinois also is working with state legislators to enact a statewide historic tax credit program – The Illinois Rehabilitation and Revitalization Tax Credit Act (SB 2217) and to extend the current Illinois Historic Tax Credit program now available in five pilot cities with the River Edge Historic Tax Credit Extension bills (SB 1642 and HB 3566).
The complete Most Endangered list, including individual property press releases and photos, is available at www.Landmarks.org through the “Press Room” link.
Landmarks Illinois 2016 Most Endangered Historic Places
(In alphabetical order)
Central High School and Neighborhood
Champaign (Champaign County)
Citing the need for upgraded and larger facilities, the Champaign Unit 4 School District has attempted to relocate and expand Central High School over the last several years. After voters rejected a proposal in 2015 to build a larger school in north Champaign, the school district is now considering plans to expand or replace Central High School, built in 1935, at its current location in conjunction with the demolition of several historic neighborhood properties for new facilities. Of the neighborhood buildings, the most architecturally and historically significant is the Albert and Julia Burnham House completed in 1884. The Burnhams were among Champaign’s leading citizens, founding the city’s first hospital and permanent public library. The couple commissioned the acclaimed firm Burnham & Root to design their home and a nearby carriage house. The mansion was later altered by another noted architectural firm, Rapp & Rapp. Central High School and the buildings optioned by the Champaign Unit 4 School District represent important threads in the historic fabric of the city, especially in the neighborhood surrounding Central High School, and the value of preservation and reuse needs to be considered in a planning process that engages the entire community. Though it has yet to finalize its plans for the expansion project, the school district’s proposals to date cast serious doubt on the future of Central High School and these historic neighborhood properties.
Citizens Savings and Loan Association Building
700 Berkshire Boulevard, East Alton (Madison County)
The Citizens Savings and Loan Association Building has long been a favorite of locals and sightseers in the River Bend region of southern Illinois. Sitting in the cutout of a hillside, the building's main entrance is connected to the sidewalk by a suspension bridge that once overlooked a reflecting pool. The round building has a futuristic style, including a patterned glass block wall and a colorful stairwell inside. But after years of deterioration, vandalism, and languishing on the market with no offers, a private owner donated the building to the Village of East Alton in 2015. Noting the building’s condition, energy costs, and failure to sell, in February 2016 the Village indicated that it would pursue demolition. Despite their initial plans for demolition, the Village has been receptive to working with Landmarks Illinois, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, and local advocates to explore reuse options. While demolition plans have been put on hold, challenges in funding, marketing, and finding a feasible reuse keep the Citizens Savings and Loan Association Building at risk.
Harley Clarke Mansion
2603 Sheridan Road, Evanston (Cook County)
Resting just off the shores of Lake Michigan, the Harley Clarke Mansion anchors the Northeast Evanston National Register of Historic Places district and is a designated Evanston Landmark. But public officials have stated demolition of the local landmark will be an option if a new use is not found, evoking widespread fear about the future of the stately and serene mansion. In 1928, utilities magnate Harley Clarke hired Boston architect Richard Powers to design his home and a nearby coach house. Clarke hired famed landscape architect Jens Jensen to sculpt the estate grounds. In 1950, the Clarkes sold the lakefront mansion to Sigma Chi, which turned the home into its Memorial Grand Chapter House. More than a decade later, the fraternity sold the property to the City of Evanston, which purchased it in order to expand the city’s public beach. Soon after purchasing the property, the city leased the Clarke Mansion to the Evanston Art Center, which occupied the building until May 2015. Since 2012, the City of Evanston began seeking a new user. After rejecting a proposal that would have redeveloped the building as a bed and breakfast, the city appointed a study committee to review options that included renovating, moving, or demolishing it. While residents have split opinion on the building’s future use and possible demolition, in October 2015, the Evanston City Council voted to table any discussion of the local landmark’s future until a state budget determining the city’s funding is passed, leaving the final determination on Harley Clarke delayed indefinitely. In the meantime, the property is secured.
Historic Neighborhood Schools
Highland Park and Rockford (Lake and Winnebago Counties)
Historic Neighborhood Schools continue to be a threatened community resource statewide. School districts are closing schools based on declining or shifting student populations, consolidation, and the desire to build new rather than rehabilitate older schools for 21st century needs. Landmarks Illinois first brought attention to this problem with its inclusion of “Historic Neighborhood Schools” on the endangered list in 2012. Subsequently, state legislators amended the state’s school construction law to help encourage the rehabilitation of historic and older schools. However, with the lack of capital funds available from the state, the legislation has done little to slow down the push to shutter and demolish older schools. The cities of Highland Park and Rockford are both embarking on multiple school closure plans. Landmarks Illinois urges the Highland Park and Rockford School districts to engage in comprehensive planning discussions with neighborhood residents, local officials and local planning staffs to determine community needs, market conditions and best processes for making soon-to-be vacant school buildings available for reuse.
Illinois Youth Center Auditorium and Gymnasium
Campton Hills Road, St. Charles (Kane County)
Decades of deferred maintenance and policy changes within the state’s youth center system have left two historic buildings at the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles vacant and in need of substantial rehabilitation. Since its establishment in 1904 as the St. Charles School for Delinquent Boys, the Illinois Youth Center (IYC) campus has had many building demolitions and now serves as a Level 2 medium-security facility for male youth with a capacity of 318 inmates. The IYC Auditorium and Gymnasium, however, survive and State Senator Karen McConnaughay is leading an effort to bring facility and educational program improvements to the IYC through public/private partnerships. Landmarks Illinois provided condition assessments for the two buildings and now private partners and funders are needed to help make the buildings an asset for the campus and its residents once again.
27277 Forest Preserve Drive, Wauconda (Lake County)
Lakewood Farms, developed as a model gentleman’s farm in 1937 and in 1967 sold to the Lake County Forest Preserves, has a long and successful history as a home for the Lake County Discovery Museum and the Curt Teich Postcard Archives. But by year-end the Discovery Museum will be relocated to a new facility and the Curt Teich Collection has already vacated the site. Soon the Lake County Forest Preserve will need to decide the future of the historic complex and demolition is on the table. Forest preserve districts have a mandate to conserve open space and prioritize funding toward that mission. Recognizing this mandate and the challenge to find adequate funding for maintaining and rehabilitating historic buildings, when it is not part of the core mission, Landmarks Illinois urges the Forest Preserves Board to set forth a process for seeking community input and soliciting potential users who could rehabilitate and occupy the buildings under purchase or lease agreements. Only with public/private partnerships are Lakewood Farm’s historic buildings, which could serve educational, training or event uses for the community, likely to survive.
Massac County Courthouse
1 Superman Square, Metropolis (Massac County)
A larger-than-life Superman stands watch outside the 1942 Massac County Courthouse, ever ready to defend his hometown of Metropolis. But even Superman could not prevent the years of water infiltration, deterioration, and insufficient maintenance budgets that have left the courthouse in a perilous condition. The building’s main enemy has been water infiltration through cracked windows and the brick exterior, which has led to perpetually leaky and collapsing ceilings. County officials estimate that it would cost $300,000 to remedy immediate problems and an additional $5 million to totally rehabilitate the building, including overhauling its plumbing, heating and air, and electrical systems as well as tuck-pointing its façade. In March 2016, voters narrowly rejected a one-percent sales tax increase to fund a rehabilitation project. Bolstered by local support to remain in the historic courthouse, county officials are working to find funding for critical repairs and are considering reintroducing the sales-tax ballot measure in the future coordinated with public education supported by Landmarks Illinois.
531 N College Street, Salem (Marion County)
When it was built in 1938, the Illinois National Guard Armory in Salem brought a splash of Art Deco styling to the small, southern Illinois town. Today the building sits vacant, embedded in a residential neighborhood, in need of significant repairs and a new use. While the Illinois National Guard welcomes reuse proposals, they will use available demolition funds if a viable alternative is not found in 2016. Like most Depression-era armories across Illinois, the Salem Armory was supported by the Works Progress Administration and based on a design by S. Milton Eichberg, a Chicago-based architect retained by the state armory board. The Salem Armory was vacated by the National Guard in 2011 when its soldiers were moved to a modern facility in nearby Mount Vernon. The Illinois National Guard offered to transfer the building to the City of Salem, but the Salem City Council declined to take possession because it lacks the resources to maintain the Armory and has not found a suitable private developer. As it languishes in limbo, the Salem Armory’s condition continues to worsen. The building’s roof has begun leaking, destroying the gymnasium floor and contributing to mold growth. The Illinois National Guard and City of Salem are working with Landmarks Illinois to explore redevelopment options for the property, but the building size and residential location have created challenges in facilitating a new use. Unless a reuse solution is identified this year, the Salem Armory will be lost.
St. Adalbert Church and Chicago’s Historic Catholic Churches
1650 W. 17th Street, Chicago (Cook County)
The Archdiocese of Chicago plans to close St. Adalbert in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, built in 1914, as it continues to make hard decisions about closures and consolidations of churches and schools. In February, the Archdiocese announced it notified local priests and parishes that one hundred churches could be closed over the next fourteen years as part of a citywide consolidation plan. Declining numbers of worshippers have lessened the need for multiple Catholic parishes and has both parish members and neighborhood residents greatly concerned about the future of these iconic church buildings that have served as community anchors for generations. Landmarks Illinois encourages the Archdiocese to partner with community and preservation organizations, the real estate community, and the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development to assess and find reuses for the buildings planned for closure through a comprehensive planning process within their neighborhoods.
421 E. Jackson Street, Springfield (Sangamon County)
Despite a colorful history, its location in a National Register Historic District, and its designation as a local landmark, the YWCA Building in Springfield is in danger of being demolished for a new downtown development. In 2007, citing declining membership and increasing maintenance costs, the Springfield YWCA sold the building to private developers after nearly a century of service. The developers were unable to secure funding for a project, and in 2014 sold the YWCA Building and the block on which it sits (currently used for surface parking) to the City of Springfield. Initial efforts to redevelop the YWCA block stalled, yet the building was not mothballed and continued to suffer from water damage. After a local election and change of leadership, city officials announced in January 2016 that the YWCA Building was damaged beyond repair and announced plans to demolish the historic property. Responding to local outcry, the city announced it would issue a new Request for Proposals (RFP) for the YWCA Building and surrounding block, with a deadline of April 30, 2016. The RFP includes options for both demolition and reuse of the YWCA Building and notes that the building is located within the expanded Downtown Springfield National Register Historic District, making it eligible for the 20% Federal Historic Tax Credit for rehabilitation. Landmarks Illinois has marketed this RFP to developers across the region and continues its outreach to find a viable reuse for the historic YWCA Building.
Landmarks Illinois is the state’s leading voice for historic preservation. Since its founding in 1971, the statewide membership organization has saved countless architectural and historic treasures throughout Illinois. Landmarks Illinois’ mission today focuses on preserving historic places and advancing policies that enhance communities, empower citizens, and catalyze local economic development throughout Illinois. For more information, visit www.Landmarks.org.