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updated: 8/13/2013 3:14 PM

West Chicago group wants to save historic house

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  • Members of the West Chicago Community Center say the nonprofit group is willing to purchase the Joel Wiant House in downtown West Chicago and restore it. The house, located at 151 W. Washington St., was built around 1869 for local businessman Joel Wiant.

       Members of the West Chicago Community Center say the nonprofit group is willing to purchase the Joel Wiant House in downtown West Chicago and restore it. The house, located at 151 W. Washington St., was built around 1869 for local businessman Joel Wiant.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

 
 

A West Chicago house that's been named one of Illinois' 10 most endangered historic places could be spared from the wrecking ball, thanks to a proposal from a nonprofit group.

Representatives of the West Chicago Community Center say the organization is prepared to acquire the Joel Wiant House from the city and spend "whatever it takes" to restore the 144-year-old building.

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"We're going to go in there and bring it up to code and restore it to a useful purpose," said David Sabathne, president of the group. "We want it to be a functional building."

Because of the offer, members of the city council's development committee on Monday night agreed to postpone a discussion on whether the brick house at 151 W. Washington St. should be demolished to make room for redevelopment. They are giving the group until October to draft an agreement for the city council to consider.

Alderman James Beifuss, who proposed the delay, said the group is "uniquely situated" to take on the project because of its efforts in the early 1980s to restore a former train depot into what's now the Wayne and Helen Fox Community Center at 306 Main St.

"It's a great offer," Beifuss said of the group's proposal for the Wiant House. "We should take some time and do the necessary work to follow up."

Before Monday's meeting, it appeared the house, which has been vacant for years and fallen into disrepair, was destined for demolition.

Since buying the building in 2011, the city made two separate attempts to sell it for a dollar. But officials haven't been able to find a buyer capable of rehabilitating the structure for retail, restaurant, office, commercial or cultural uses.

Meanwhile, the house stands in a downtown area the city has slated for redevelopment. And city officials sought to overturn a decision by the West Chicago Historical Preservation Commission to block any demolition of the structure.

The situation earlier this year prompted the preservationist group Landmarks Illinois to name the Wiant House one the state's 10 most endangered historic places.

Sabathne said the community center group initially didn't get involved because it wanted to give private developers the chance to make offers on the house. Now the organization is ready to start its proposed rehabilitation as soon as possible.

"I do not want to spend 60 days to come back with a decision," Sabathne said. "I want this decision now."

He said the group has about $400,000 of available cash to spend on the project. It doesn't plan to borrow any money.

While estimates the city received show it would cost at least $550,000 to repair the exterior and interior of the structure, Sabathne said he doesn't believe the work will cost that much.

"We're not going to do the city's plan," he said. "But we can bring it back to a useful purpose."

Sabathne said the goal is to save the house, which was built around 1869 for local businessman Joel Wiant and later occupied by John W. Leedle, West Chicago's first city attorney.

The structure was last used with offices on the first floor and apartments on the second floor.

"We believe the building is relevant to the community and worth preserving," Sabathne said.

Mayor Ruben Pineda said he was pleased the group stepped up and made an offer.

"That was our intent from day one," Pineda said. "We wanted somebody to buy it for a dollar and use their money to renovate the building."

He said he has "no doubt" the community center group will be able to restore the building. "Once they get the outside done," Pineda said, "people will see how beautiful it could be."

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