Illinois Public Media News
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.
(Photo courtesy of Champaign Park District)
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.
(Photo courtesy of lindsayloveshermac/flickr)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Interim Chancellor Robert Easter recently returned from a week-long trip to India. Easter met with university, business, and government officials to discuss research partnerships in areas ranging from agriculture, to information technologies, to climate change. He also talked about the prospects of opening a campus in India, and opportunities for graduate education.
There are about 400 undergraduate and more than 460 graduate students from India currently studying at the U of I. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers spoke to Easter about the relationship developing between India and the University of Illinois.
Preservationists say the University of Illinois failed to follow the proper procedure when going ahead with work on an 1870's farmhouse.
Urbana Campus Historic Preservation Officer Melvin Skvarla said the U of I decided to use $91,000 in residual money to remove the century old additions to Mumford House, based on an architect's recommendation.
Skvarla said that report has been online since early this year.
"The intent was to return the house to its original condition," said Skvarla. "That was stated over and over again - following the recommendations of (architect) Vinci Hamp. The 1892 south addition is probably worse shape than the entire house. The 1922 edition is not even compatible with the rest of the house."
A spokesman for Illinois' Historic Preservation Agency said the U of I never bothered to discuss these plans with an advisory committee appointed by the school's board of trustees. Dave Blanchette said the university should have let that panel weigh in.
"That was the entire reason for forming the advisory committee was to work hand-in-hand with the university to make sure the historic Mumford House was adequately protected," said Blanchette. "To make everyone aware in advance what was planned, and what was going to be done, and let everyone agree to a course of action. We have not had that in the last couple of days."
Urbana Historic Preservation Commission Chair Alice Novak contends removing the additions hurts the structure's historical significance.
"The west side addition is particularly nice in offering living room space, it has a large fireplace, it had a bevel glass window which was removed Wednesday morning, and I don't know where that's going," said Novak. "So if we're interested in really seeing the house used and marketed, it really would be prudent to leave those additions on there."
Novak said the additions were added by Dean Herbert Mumford around the 1900, when his family lived in the house, and are significant to the building.
The $91,000 will also go for painting and weatherization. Skvarla said a full restoration will cost one and a half million dollars, and he said there are no further plans for Mumford House when the current work is done late this month.
Landmarks Illinois President Jim Peters sits on the U of I's advisory panel for the structure. He agrees with Novak that the additions could have been utilized in some sort of reuse plan, but he said if ultimately, the U of I wants to restore Mumford House to its 1871 state, removing the additions may have been the best plan.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
This week marks the anniversary of one of the largest efforts to raise money for the nation's farmers, who in 1985 were battling lower land values and higher interest rates. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers looks at how this benefit concert has helped small family farms in the last 25 years.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Twenty five years ago this week, the Champaign area was all about Farm Aid. The 12-hour event in Champaign, Illinois featured more than 40 acts, including organizers Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young. It drew in more than $9 million dollars to help the nation's struggling farmers. But beyond raising money, Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports that the concert helped shed light on the challenges facing farmers in the 1980s.
The University of Illinois is enacting a short-term plan to accommodate classes in areas like geology and biology that take place in the Natural History Building.
A recent inspection of termite damage determined that concrete was incorrectly poured when the structure's 1908 addition was built, that meant vacating that part of the building, leaving behind lots of research materials. Clark Wise is Director of Construction Management for U of I Facilities and Services. With the fall semester about six weeks away, he's requested that administrators waive competitive bidding laws for contractors, which the state allows in an emergency. Wise says just over $1 million will allow his staff to stabilize concrete slabs long enough to move research and other classroom equipment to another part of the building, or elsewhere on campus. But Wise says a permanent plan for the Natural History Building will take some time.
"We're starting to just have discussions now on what the permanent solution would be to this portion of the building," said Wise. "And does it make good sense for us just to repair the structural slabs, or should we have a more comprehensive renovation of that area that would take in deffered maintenance and other items that are present currently." Operations Manager for the U of I's School of Earth, Society, and Environment, Scott Morris, says he's confident materials will be moved in time for classes, but says it could be two to three years before repair work on the Natural History Building is complete.
The 1908 addition had to be vacated on June 10th. Wise says other buildings are being remodeled to accommodate all those who were displaced, including about 25 graduate students. But Wise says he's pleasantly surprised the U of I didn't have to rent out additional space.
A University of Illinois Geology Professor says the discovery of a century-old construction problem in the Natural History Building produces lingering ones for research, and fall classes. Inspections of termite damage last week showed metal reinforcements were improperly placed on the building's addition in 1908. There's no time estimate yet for repairing the building.
Stephen Marshak directs the U of I's School of Earth, Society, and Environment. He says a few summer classes had to be moved immediately to another part of the building. Marshak also questions how lab research will continue when staff can't gain access, and that a lot of lab materials are delicate, and can't be easily moved. Marshak says if part of the building is still closed this fall, classes with a lot of students will have to move as well. "So we're thinking of reconfiguring some rooms that are being used for other purposes in the stable part of the building to accomodate some of the geology classes in the fall," said Marshak. "We're not going to be able to set those up though until they give us the go ahead to actually move cabinets of rock specimens and cabinets of maps and things that we need access to. And right now, we're told that we're not allowed to move those yet."
Marshak says the U of I's Facilities and Services Department will determine when materials can be moved and where. Meanwhile, Marshak several offices are looking for a place to move to. He says until his staff knows what the time frame is for repairs to the building, departments will wait until moving their research to other rooms. Marshak estimates about 25 graduate students have been displaced.
One of those responsible for changing the marquee on Champaign's Virginia Theatre says it needs to be recognized as more than a place for showing movies. Champaign Park District Board member Barbara Kuhl favors replacing the sign to make the theatre look more like a vaudeville house, as it appeared in 1921. Board members voted 3-2 for replacing the marquee that's been there since the 40's. Kuhl also says the current one needed replacing anyway. "The current marquee will be taken down and destroyed. It cannot be refurbished," said Kuhl. "So the question was not 'will there be a new marquee?'... it was just 'what was the shape of the new marquee going to be."
Those favoring the change say a new sign would show off more of the upper-level façade and original architecture. Urban planner Alice Novak says there's no doubt the Virginia is a beautiful building, but argues the park district is changing the most defining feature. Kuhl says the public opposition to changing the sign was blown out of proportion. But Novak says there was an obvious public sentiment for retaining the marquee, and the park district board chose to ignore it. "So I think that's very disappointing," said Novak. "And I don't know what the long-lasting implications of that kind of bad policy will be."
Novak sits on Illinois' Historic Sites Advisory Council, which reviews nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. Park District Board members contend the new marquee won't change that eligibility. But Novak says once the old one comes down - she'll submit photos of the Virginia to the rest of her group to consider a change. Champaign Park District Board President Jane Solon says she initially would have preferred the Virginia's next marquee be a combination of refurbishing the existing one, with features from the original sign's 1921 design. But she says public opposition convinced her that the best marquee was the one currently in place. "You can't marry two periods together and create a new that's not the best thing to do," says Solon. "So from a historical perspective and from what citizens had said they preferred, I then became in favor of keeping the triangle marquee."
Both board members say they hope the marquee change will be done when other renovations to the theater are completed. The Virginia closes next week for upgrades to its entrances and lobby, and re-opens in November. A million dollar bequest from the estate of Michael Carragher is funding that work, while ticket sales and other private donations are paying for the new marquee.
The state doesn't have a say as to whether the Champaign Park District replaces the marquee on the Virginia Theatre.
A spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency says things will stay that way, as long as no state or federal permits or funding is involved in any potential work. But the agency is still recommending to the Park District Board that the current marquee stay in place, rather than replace it with a replica of the original from 1921. The Virginia Theater is on the National Register of Historic Places, and its current sign was on the nomination form when it was listed. Historic Agency spokesman Dave Blanchette says the building itself is significant, with or without the sign.
"However, our removing a historic feature from the building such as the marquee would impact its historic integrity in our opinion," said Blanchette. "It probably would not jeopardize its National Register of Historic Places listing, but nontheless, it's a historic feature of the building which we think needs to retained." Blanchette says the 1940's marquee adds to the historic character of the building. Champaign's historic preservation commission is opposed to changing it to a replica of what it once looked like. The city's park district board expects to take up the issue again June 9th.
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