Courthouse to be restored to 1905
The Historic Preservation Commission chose the year 1905 as a guideline for preservation purposes for the Old Courthouse Building, 101 N. Johnson St.
At the end of 2011, the city took ownership of the building. While the city accepted ownership, officials have maintained that it is their intention to eventually transfer the property to private ownership. Before this can happen, the city plans to preserve historic and architectural elements of the building, help provide public safety and welfare associated with the building and work with a viable private entity which would eventually purchase the building and assume ownership under conditions determined by the council, with assistance from the HPC.
A report prepared by Gary W. Anderson Architects has been released in recent months and shows about $143,000 in immediate critical needs and nearly $4.5 million in long-term costs associated with the restoration of the building.
Despite agreeing on some priority projects at a joint meeting with the City Council Sept. 4, HPC Chairman Allen Stebbins requested more information about what the city hopes to recreate.
“Because [the building] is over 150 years old, do you think we should develop a period of history we should [restore it back to]?” he asked at the joint meeting. Anderson and the council agreed that it was, and the HPC was charged with identifying an era in which to restore the building.
Nancy Baker, city planner and liaison to the HPC, compiled a history of the building in advance of a Sept. 24 HPC meeting.
“I tried to pretty much state the various facts as I came across them without trying to draw too much of a conclusion,” Baker said.
The building was built in 1857 and was designed by Chicago’s first architect, John M. Van Osdel. Some interior changes took place in the building over the next several decades. By 1905, two additions were constructed on the north and south ends of the building. The additions mimicked the original style of the building, duplicating window proportions and decorative details. Further additions abandoned the style as concessions were made in an effort to save money.
“I think we should respect those [addition] decisions as long as they did them in good taste and with respect [to the original building],” said historic preservation commissioner Yvonne Gilbert.
HP commissioner Erica Wilson said the purpose of deciding on an era is to establish “a snapshot in time.” She said it is meant to assist in preservation efforts but noted it doesn’t mean everything that came after will be demolished or removed.
“This is the best date we have,” Wilson said.
The commissioners agreed, noting 1905 represents a time when the building was at its aesthetic peak and maintained the historical impact of the of Van Osdel’s design. Choosing 1905, rather than when the building was first constructed, also provides the opportunity for the city to reference more historical photos.
After unanimously determining an era, the HPC voted 4-1 on a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the garage at the rear of the building. Wilson voted against the approval. She said the city hasn’t made enough of a case that other options aren’t possible.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have agonized over this issue,” Stebbins said. “For me … I don’t take demolition lightly. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Ultimately, Stebbins said he had to look at the certificate of appropriateness as if it was coming from a petitioner other than the city. The cost to restore the garage was estimated to be $61,000. Beyond the cost, the location of the garage would make it difficult to do masonry work to nearby walls. The city also is having trouble accessing leaking water service due to the location of the garage, costing the city about $2,330 per year.
The commission requested that brick and limestone detailing be salvaged from the garage for future use. Baker said she expects the garage to be removed before the end of the year.