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updated: 6/5/2013 10:56 AM

West Chicago debates fate of historic home

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  • West Chicago is seeking permission from the city's historical preservation commission to demolish the Joel Wiant House, which is located at 151 W. Washington St.

    West Chicago is seeking permission from the city's historical preservation commission to demolish the Joel Wiant House, which is located at 151 W. Washington St.
    Daily Herald file photo


There's "no clear reason architecturally or structurally" to demolish the historic Joel Wiant House in downtown West Chicago, according to an architect hired by the city's historical preservation commission.

But the city has its own experts who say it would be highly costly to rehabilitate the 144-year-old brick building at 151 W. Washington St.

Both findings are at the heart of a debate over whether the vacant structure, which is in disrepair, should remain within a 14-acre area that West Chicago has slated for redevelopment.

The city owns the house and is trying to sell it for a dollar. However, city officials haven't been able to find a buyer capable of rehabilitating the structure for retail, restaurant, office, commercial or cultural uses.

So the city is seeking a "certificate of appropriateness" to demolish the building. The certificate is needed because the house is in the city's Turner Junction Historic District.

The West Chicago Historical Preservation Commission denied the city's request, which triggered a public hearing.

During the public hearing on Tuesday night, members of the commission reviewed separate reports by two architectural firms -- Matocha Associates and Gallagher Associates.

Matocha Associates, which inspected the house on behalf of the city, has determined that the building's "structural elements appear rather sound." Still, there's significant deterioration damage to both the exterior and interior, according to the architects.

City officials said estimates they got from two companies show it would cost about $550,000 to make all the exterior and interior repairs to the building.

George R. Matocha, president of Matocha Associates, testified Tuesday that the work would cost significantly more -- about $938,000.

John Said, the city's director of community development, said several developers who toured the building determined "this project is simply not cost-effective and not one which they would wish to undertake."

Still, preservationists have said the structure could become "an adaptive reuse" within the 14-acre West Washington Street Redevelopment Project area that is expected to someday include a new city hall and police station.

That argument got a boost from the report by Gallagher Associates, the architectural firm hired by the historical commission.

Sean Gallagher has concluded that the structural shell of the house "will form an excellent skeleton for rehabilitation, restoration or adaptive reuse of the building."

"Though tired and somewhat forlorn with areas in need of attention soon, the house is nonetheless serviceable, functional and usable," Gallagher said. "There is no clear reason architecturally or structurally for the removal of this building."

The architect says there are "many reasons" to keep and rehabilitate the house.

In addition to being one of the last surviving Second Empire-style structures in DuPage County, the house has ties to two prominent families.

Joel Wiant, one of DuPage's earliest settlers and a local businessman, had the house built around 1869. John W. Leedle, West Chicago's first city attorney, occupied the house between the early 1900s and the 1940s.

At some point, the house stopped being used as a single-family home. It was last used with offices on the first floor and apartments on the second floor.

By the time the city acquired the building through foreclosure in 2011, it was in need of repairs and had a number of building code violations.

The historical commission is expected to make a recommendation within 30 days. If the panel again denies the city's request to demolish the building, the city council could reverse the decision.

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