News Local/State

Demolition Of Champaign Burnham Mansion Completed

Demolition under way at the Burnham Mansion in Champaign.

The east wall of the Burnham Mansion in Champaign, where demolition work began on Tuesday morning, Sept. 11. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

A demolition crew tore down the 134-year-old Burnham Mansion in Champaign on Tuesday, reducing it to a pile of rubble by evening. The home on Church Street that later become an apartment building is coming down to make room for the expansion of Champaign Central High School.

Mayor Dannel McCollum stopped by to watch the demolition work. He said he was a big supporter of renovating and expanding the high school, over earlier plans to build a new school on the north edge of Champaign. But McCollum said he wishes plans to move the Burnham Mansion to a new location had worked out.

“If it could have been put over there across from Westside Park, it would have been a marvelous accompaniment to the old Mattis house that’s still standing. But it was a bridge too far, as they say.”

The Mattis House on Park Avenue, is located in the same neighborhood as the Burnham Mansion. It is named for local banker and businessman George Mattis.

Plans to move the Burnham Mansion fizzled after Chicago area preservationist Chris Enck was unable to secure financing for the project, even after the Champaign Unit Four School District extended its deadline for the work.

Before Enck’s efforts to move the house, local preservationists had mounted a an effort to persuade the Champaign City Council to give the Burnham Mansion and two other homes local landmark status to protect them from demolition. When that was rejected, a local group offered to buy the Burnham Mansion from the Champaign school district. Chris Enck’s effort to move the Burnham Mansion was the final effort to save the building.

The Burnham Mansion was designed in the Queen Anne style by the Chicago architectural firm of Burnham and Root. The firm was founded by the noted 19th century architect Daniel Burnham, who is remembered for several Chicago skyscrapers, New York’s Flatiron Building, and ambitious master plans for Chicago and several other major cities.

The Burnham Mansion in Champaign, pictured in May, 2017

Travis Stansel/Illinois Public Media

But the Burnham Mansion was named after some other Burnhams: Champaign businessman and philanthropist Albert Burnham and his wife Julia, who lived in the home.

Prior to demolition, a Peoria salvage firm went through the Burnham mansion in August, removing components that could be reused. Also in August, the U.S. Army’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) in Champaign performed a laser scan of the building as an exercise. The data collected by the scan preserves details about the building that go beyond what photographs could do.

UPDATE: This article was revised to note progress on the demolition of the Burnham Mansion. - JM 9/12/18 9:47 AM