To Ken Bohl, the Maple Street Chapel in Lombard is more than just an old church.
It’s a former free library — the state’s first. It’s the original Lombard village hall. Its bells summoned early community firefighters and it even served as a movie theater.
“It’s where we came from. It’s our roots and it’s the basics of what’s good about our people,” Bohl said.
But because the stately, white chapel on the corner of Main and Maple streets is, indeed, an old building — dedicated in 1870 — Bohl and others involved with Friends of the Maple Street Chapel Society feel responsible for preserving the building’s historical features and uses.
“We don’t want to fix up an old building and have it sit on the corner,” Bohl said. “We want it to be a meeting and social place for the community.”
Bohl and his group of preservationists aren’t alone in working to maintain Lombard’s historic sites.
Several organizations use different preservation methods and prioritize different types of landmarks for maintenance. And while the names of historic designations and qualities required for special status differ, the groups say their goal is the same: to preserve the character of the community.
Friends of the Maple Street Chapel Society is a group of roughly 25 volunteer preservationists formed in 2000 to raise money and maintain the chapel, said Bohl, a 58-year-old computer programmer who serves as facilities director.
As the only Lombard building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the country’s most prestigious preservation list, the chapel needs lots of TLC, he said. It also needs more tangible maintenance, such as a new roof — even on top of its 115-foot steeple.
The group sponsors its next fundraising event at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 26, bringing performer Terry Lynch to the chapel to impersonate Marshall Field, Frederick Maytag, Ray Kroc, Charles Walgreen and William Wrigley in a program called “Early Movers and Shakers.”
The show is the second in a three-part variety series that continues April 10 with an orchestra concert including music from “West Side Story.”
Funds from both events will help the chapel’s caretakers pay for roof replacement and other preservation costs, Bohl said.
The village’s historical commission provides local landmark status to qualifying historic structures and oversees their upkeep.
Only three sites — the Dairy Queen sign on Main Street, the Sheldon Peck homestead at Grace Street and Parkside Avenue, and a private home at 125 E. Washington Blvd. known as the “hidden house” — are designated local landmarks.
But historical commission Chairwoman Rita Schneider said the group hopes to add more in the future and is eyeing Lombard Cemetery on Main Street, the Maple Street Chapel, Lilacia Park and the Lombard Historical Society’s headquarters at the Victorian Cottage Museum on Maple Street.
To qualify, a structure or site must be at least 50 years old and have maintained integrity. Buildings with architectural significance or importance based on an important person or event can be eligible, Schneider said.
Once a structure earns local landmark status, all exterior changes must be brought before the historical commission for approval. And that oversight seems to be the only factor stopping groups other than the historical commission from seeking local landmark status for their historic properties, said Jeanne Schultz-Angel, executive director of the Lombard Historical Society, which works closely with the commission.
“Landmark status, to people’s minds, kind of dips into a little bit of that freedom because they’ll have to double check with somebody on changing something,” Schultz-Angel said. “But honestly, in terms of historic preservation, if we don’t make these things safe now for generations to come, they will be gone and 50 years from now Lombard will look a very different place.”
The Lombard Historical Society has awarded plaques to about 35 homes and buildings recognizing their place in the town’s history.
The plaques are honorary, so property owners can make exterior changes without seeking approval, Schultz-Angel said. About 35 sites in the village are marked with Historical Society plaques, including the Maple Street Chapel, Lilacia Park, the Sheldon Peck Homestead and several houses from the 1880s.
Lombard Park District takes its responsibility very seriously for maintaining its most historic asset, Lilacia Park, Executive Director Paul Friedrichs said.
The 8.5-acre park began as the backyard of a famous resident, Col. William Plum, and has evolved into a horticultural showcase of about 170 lilac varieties.
“It’s one of the most important duties we have,” Friedrichs said about maintaining the park. “If Colonel and Mrs. Plum could come back and visit Lilacia Park for a day, they’d be really proud of the state of the park as it is today.”
In a 2009 letter to the historical commission, the park board decided not to seek local landmark status because “unfortunately, this designation would come with additional oversight by outside organizations, which the park board is unanimously against.”
Local landmark or not, visitors who come to Lombard for Lilac Time each year in early May recognize the park’s uniqueness. And in late April, the International Lilac Society will host its 2011 convention in Lombard, further highlighting the high caliber of the floral collection.
“I think in the hands of the park district, we can guarantee that Lilacia Park will forever be open space and be preserved,” Friedrichs said.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.