After several years of planning, construction on a World War II memorial in Decatur may finally start.
The project has faced a series of delays because of a lack of funding, but now with about $25,000 needed to complete the memorial; organizers hope to break ground in May. This would be the first phase of the project, which will go up in front of the Decatur Civic Center. It is the brainchild of Pete Nicholls, a World War II veteran who passed away three years ago.
Nicolls' son, Pete, said his father was injured during the war after he jumped on a grenade, and saved the lives of two other soldiers.
"He was very involved in veterans his whole life after that, and around Decatur he realized there were several war memorials, but there was none dedicated to the World War II veterans," Nicolls said.
The monument will include five head stones representing each service of the armed services, and it will have a five-foot globe that is going to be on a pedestal. Nicolls said the pedestal will have a list of area veterans who died during the war. Nicolls said he hopes to see the memorial completed by next year.
Gordon Brenner, who is on the World War II Memorial committee, began working on the project in 2004 with the elder Nicolls.
"(Nicolls) said I know I may not live long enough to see this thing built, and so he said I want someone I know who's going to carry on and see this to the end," Brenner said. "I told him, 'Pete, you ain't going nowhere until we get this thing built.' I said, 'I would be honored to help you.'"
Before Nicolls passed away, he and Brenner spent time researching World War II military casualties from Macon County. Brenner said the memorial will serve as a lasting tribute to about 360 area veterans who died during the war.
Yay" --- that's the one word on the new marquee installed Wednesday afternoon at Champaign's Virginia Theater.
Workmen used a crane to hoist the sign up to the front of the 90-year-old vaudeville and movie theater. It replaces the old triangular marquee that had hung on the Virginia since the 1940s.
Supporters of that marquee protested the Champaign Park Board's decision to replace it with one resembling the theater's original lighted sign. District spokesperson Laura Auteberry said the 1940s marquee will continue to have its supporters. But she said the new marquee is a better fit.
"We now have three sides of a marquee to advertise on instead of just two," Auteberry said. "And it also opens up the facade of the building itself. You can now see the entire facade with the beautiful windows and all the architectural detail as opposed to the old one that really blocked all of that."
Auteberry said the new marquee makes perfect sense. "It looks beautiful, and is absolutely more architectually in keeping with the style of the architecture of the building than was on there before, which better represents how the building looked and was intended when it was opened in 1921."
The word "Yay" was the only word on the Virginia's new marquee when it was installed Wednesday. Auteberry said the marquee will next be fitted with hundreds of light bulbs and wired for electricity. Soon, it will be advertising the Virginia Theater's next attraction, a Sept. 10 showing of the 1930 movie classic "All Quiet on the Western Front".
The restoration of the clock and bell tower at the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana is one of 40 success stories that a statewide preservation group is highlighting to mark its 40th anniversary.
Landmarks Illinois isn't taking credit for the entire list of 40 landmarks across the state. Instead, the group's president, Jim Peters, says they show what can be done when people in local communities pull together to save a piece of their history.
In the case of the Champaign County Courthouse, Peters said the county and local donors were able to both preserve the crumbling brick walls of the courthouse --- and rebuild a clock and bell tower that had been shortened by lightning strikes.
"I think people for decades have been trying to get the (courthouse) building restored, and the long-missing tower put back," Peters said. "So we thought that was just an amazing effort. So that kind of --- you know, it was emblematic of that grassroots effort, that stick-to-it-ivness - figuring out they wanted to do something, and just kept at it until it was accomplished."
Champaign's Orpheum Theater is also on Landmarks Illinois' "40 Over 40" list. Local preservationists reopened the old movie house as a children's museum in the 1990s. Other landmarks on the list include the old Chicago Public Library (now a cultural center), the old city hall and fire station in Pontiac (now operating as the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum) and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Dana-Thomas house in Springfield.
Peters said most of the preservation efforts have one thing in common--- strong community support.
"What we wanted to focus on were grassroots efforts: community-wide efforts to either save a building, restore a building --- in some cases, even move a building to keep it from being demolished," he said. "You know, a community, a neighborhood group or a city itself."
Landmarks Illinois was founded in 1971 as the Landmarks Preservation Council. Its first project was an unsuccessful effort to save the Louis Sullivan-designed Chicago Stock Exchange Building. It claims the preservation of the old downtown Chicago Public Library building as the city's Cultural Center as its first major success. The group expanded its scope to cover Illinois in the late 1970s, and changed its name to Landmarks Illinois in 2006.
Peters said he hopes the "40 Over 40" list can inspire other communities to work to save their important historic buildings.
View a slideshow of some of the sites that made the list:
An effort is underway in Urbana to identify the city's 100 most important structures, which may include buildings, statues, and bridges.
The project is part of an effort to showcase the city's architectural history and heritage. City planner Robert Meyers said he hopes the list drives up tourism as people flock to Urbana to learn more about the area.
"We're identifying places of interest where people can visit from out of town or even from our own community," Meyers said. "The physical layout and design of the community, also its history and historic structures, that helps people identify their community and in turn themselves."
The top landmarks will be unveiled in an illustrated online and print guide released later this fall. To submit recommendations about structures that should be included, contact the city at (217) 384-2440 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
An old mansion in Champaign that was converted into the McKinley YMCA could soon become a mansion once again.
Local developer Leon Jeske has purchased the McKinley Y from the Champaign County YMCA for $450,000. He plans to restore the century-old building, and lease it out as a private residence. Jeske stepped in after earlier plans to sell the square-block site to Owens Funeral Home fell through.
Jeske said the building is in essentially good shape. He said much of its interior features are unchanged, despite decades of use by the YMCA.
"They put in some ceiling tiles --- like acoustical tiling, one foot square," Jeske said. "That's not original. But the woodwork is all intact, even where they added a partition or wall, they did not disturb the crown moldings, they just kind of went over them, cut around them. So everything's there."
Jeske said he hasn't yet decided what to do with the adjoining carriage house, or the additions built for the building's YMCA use, including an indoor swimming pool. But he said the additions have separate entrances and could be converted into apartments, and he said the site also has commercial potential.
"It's right across the street from Westside Park," Jeske explained. "I could see a small cafeteria-type restaurant that could serve coffee and cake, and maybe a glass of wine, with a lot of outdoor seating where you could overlook the park."
Jeske said a restaurant would require a zoning change, but he said the site is appropriate for that sort of use.
The facility will continue as the McKinley YMCA until the Champaign County Y's new facility in southwest Champaign is ready to open next year. CEO Mark Johnson said construction of the new facility is moving ahead on schedule, and until it's completed, they're leasing the McKinley "Y" back from Jeske on a month-to-month basis.
One of central Illinois' oldest and largest farmers' markets starts its new season Saturday morning, May 7th.
The Market-at-the-Square in downtown Urbana promises over 160 vendors selling everything from fresh produce to arts and crafts. Market director Lisa Bralts-Kelly says attendance averages about 7,000 visitors each week.
Not all produce is available at farmers markets in the month of May, and Market-at-the-Square is no exception. But Bralts-Kelly saod there are some things shoppers can always count on at this time of year.
"You'll have various lettuces, spinach, green onions, fresh-cut herbs that are OK in cool weather, all of those things," Bralts-Kelly said. "But then we have asparagus, which is really the star of the show. And the season for asparagus started a couple of weeks ago, so we'll have it at the Market this weekend. And then, as that starts to wane, the strawberries will start to come on."
One thing that will NOT be at Market-at-the-Square this year is pets and other animals.They're barred from the Market under a new policy. Bralts-Kelly said that they've come to realize that the busy outdoor market is not a good setting for pets.
"We just witnessed many interactions between, not just dogs and people, but also dogs and other dogs," she said. "And we did field a lot of complaints from patrons about animals --- whether it was for sanitation reasons, or crowding, noise, leashes. We've been compiling all this feedback for years, and we decided that this year was probably the time to do it."
Bralts-Kelly said pets are already banned at the Taste of Champaign-Urbana, and the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival --- making Market-at-the-Square the last big outdoor food event in the area to enact such a policy. Service animals will still be welcome, and community groups registered as "animal-related" can also have animals at their booths.
Urbana's Market-at-the-Square is a city-run event that runs Saturday mornings, now through November 5th, at Lincoln Square in downtown Urbana. It will be joined by another area farmer's market next month --- Champaign's North First Street will host its farmers market on Thursday afternoons, starting June 9th.
Members of state preservation group are trying to save ten of what they say are the most endangered places in Illinois. Most of the structures on the list are threatened with demolition as development projects expand. Some are falling into disrepair due to a lack of funds or mismanagement.
President of Landmarks Illinois Jim Peters says in the case of some structures, community meetings are being held to decide the building's fate.
"That's kind of an imminent threat, that doesn't mean it'll be demolished tomorrow, but there's a decision that could impact it's future," Peters said at a Wednesday news conference. "I think that's the case with all of these; there's some kind of threat."
The vacant Sheriff's Residence and Jail in Ford County made the list of endangered buildings. County officials purchased the building a few years ago and may be planning a demolition.
Susan Satterlee of the Ford County Preservation Coalition says the building's more than 100 year history deserves protection.
"Up until 1992 it was used as a functional jail and our county sheriff actually lived there," Satterlee said. "At one point, the spouse of the sheriff was responsible for feeding all the inmates."
Satterlee says the combined use of the building in Paxton makes it one of the oldest of its kind in the state. It sits next to the Ford County courthouse. If demolished, the space it is on would likely be used for a new county building.
Also on the list is the Will Rogers Theatre in downtown Charleston, an Art Deco building from 1938. It was still showing movies until last year, when it was closed and sold. Tom Vance does historic preservation consulting, and recently helped with a petition drive to get the theater named to that list. He says the facility could ideally become an entertainment venue for different acts, much like the Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.
"There may be somebody out there who has the investment capital to come in, buy it, and restore it," said Vance. "There are TIF (Tax Increment Finance) funds available to help with the exterior restoration of it, and put in a venue of performing arts and movies. That would be the ideal thing."
The current owners, American Multi-Cinema, is also looking to sell the theater and adjoining commercial block. Vance says if a buyer doesn't come forward, the other option is for a local non-profit group to form and re-open the theater. But he estimates the restoration would cost three quarters of a million dollars. The Charleston City Council has yet to decide whether to recommend the Will Rogers Theater for local landmark status, protecting it from further demolition.
Champaign's Virginia Theatre re-opens this week after six months of privately funded work to the lobby and concession stand.
The downtown facility has yet to use $500,000 in state grant dollars for plaster work and theater lighting. But Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said that work is expected to take longer, likely about eight months. With movie showings and concerts now scheduled into May, Auteberry said the park district will likely postpone closing the Virginia again until 2012. The schedule includes Roger Ebert's 13th Annual Film Festival.
Auteberry said lots of changes have already taken place since July, including paint and plaster work, a new concession stand, lighting, and carpeting extending into the upper lobby. The decision to move the state grant-funded work to will officially be made at the next park district board meeting Jan. 12. Auteberry said that is also when the board hopes to approve the design for a new marquee on the theater, after reviewing options from a sign company.
"They're going to be looking at redesigned designs, that Wagner (Electric Sign Company) has prepared, and hopefully deciding on a final design," Auteberry said. "Once we get a final design done, I don't think it will take them long to put it up."
The Virginia has been without a marquee the last several weeks. The park district board voted last summer to replace the sign with one resembling the 1921 original, despite complaints from local preservationists. The old vaudeville house re-opens Friday night for the annual Chorale concert. The park district also hopes to schedule an open house in February to show off recent upgrades.
Champaign's Virginia Theater is now without a marquee.
The sign that is been part of the theater since the 1940's came down Tuesday. The city's park district opted in June to replace it with one resembling the 1921 original.
Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said it is likely the theater will re-open without the new marquee in place. The Virginia closed six months ago, so crews could redo the lobby, which included plaster and electrical work, and renovated concessions. Private donations paid for the project.
Preservationists have called the marquee the Virginia's most defining feature. Auteberry said the controversy that initially arose over replacing that sign prompted the park district to make it a separate project.
"We actually pulled it out of the original planning process for the renovation so that the (Park District) Board had an opportunity to further study what we were looking at doing, and the replacement options for the marquee" Auteberry said. "So the whole process just got started a little later than we had originally anticipated."
Auteberry said the Park District board will sign off on a design for a new marquee at its meeting next month. She said the board plans to hold a re-opening event, a kind of open house, sometime in January. The Park District contends a new marquee would show off more of the Virginia's architectural significance.
Preservation planner Alice Novak said the sign change could impact the theater's position on the National Register of Historic Places. She said she expects Illinois' Historic Preservation Agency will consider such a recommendation.
"It could possibly change the standing," Novak said. "I have no doubt that somebody will present materials to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to see about de-listing the building from the National Register."
Novak added that could hurt publicity for the old theater. She sits on the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council.
After sitting vacant since the spring of 2009, a prospective buyer has surfaced for Urbana's Lincoln Hotel.
The city council has given preliminary approval to a deal between the city and former commodities trader, Xiao Jin Yuan. Yuan owns a Hampton Inn in Crescent City, California. He said the Lincoln's European exterior is what makes it unique, but the interior is a different story.
"Walking in there, it's just like walking into a dark castle, or something like that," Yuan said. "It's a little bit depressing, that's my personal feeling. I need to talk to my architect and interior designer. The lighting has to be changed. It's too dark."
The Lincoln dates back to 1921 and designer Joseph Royer.
Yuan formerly lived in England. He said he is used to this kind of structure, and sees potential, as long the hotel can offer modern amenities.
"Some of the people like the old style," Yuan said. "I already own a modern hotel. Why shouldn't I try something new?"
Yuan is working to purchase the Lincoln hotel from its current owner, Marine Bank. Under the agreement with the city of Urbana, he would receive $650,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds for initial improvements. Yuan is required to return that money if he sells the hotel before it reopens, but Yuan said he plans on operating the Lincoln until he retires. Additional TIF funds in the $1.4 million dollar agreement would be used for development over a five-year period.