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updated: 7/11/2014 5:41 AM

Group needs more time to restore historic West Chicago home

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  • Restoration work continues on the Joel Wiant House in West Chicago. The house, built around 1869 for local businessman Joel Wiant, had fallen into a state of severe disrepair.

       Restoration work continues on the Joel Wiant House in West Chicago. The house, built around 1869 for local businessman Joel Wiant, had fallen into a state of severe disrepair.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Ed Engleking, of R.C. Soto Construction in Elburn, replaces some of the rotting wood over a window at the Joel Wiant House in West Chicago. The wood has to be replaced so copper flashing can be installed.

       Ed Engleking, of R.C. Soto Construction in Elburn, replaces some of the rotting wood over a window at the Joel Wiant House in West Chicago. The wood has to be replaced so copper flashing can be installed.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

 
 

Efforts to restore the historic Joel Wiant House in West Chicago were slowed recently when significant damage was discovered inside some walls.

So the nonprofit group doing the restoration -- the West Chicago Community Center -- is planning to ask the city for another month to resolve a list of exterior building code violations. The city originally had given the group a July 31 deadline.

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"We've come a long way," David Sabathne, the organization's president, said of the work that's been done so far to the roughly 145-year-old house at 151 W. Washington St.

Work slowed when crews learned some bricks had disintegrated inside an interior wall and an exterior wall had become unstable.

"I could put my finger through the brick because it was so saturated and had been there for so long," Sabathne said. "It was like Play-Doh."

Addressing the unexpected problem caused the rest of the project to fall behind schedule.

Meanwhile, workers say the project is highly demanding because they must replicate construction methods no longer in use to restore the building to its original specifications.

Ed Engleking, of R.C. Soto Construction in Elburn, has spent eight weeks fixing the house's 30 windows, which use lead weights and ropes to keep them open. The ropes were rotted and had to be replaced with new ones.

"We have to mimic what's there so it's historically correct," Engleking said.

If the 30-day extension is granted, Sabathne said he's confident the exterior work will be done by the end of August.

The group agreed to bring the building up to code when it acquired the structure from the city. Sabathne estimates 80 percent of the code violations have been resolved so far.

Once that work is done, they'll focus on repairing the inside with an eye to finish it by the end of the year.

The group sought to save the Wiant House because the structure was facing demolition despite ties to two prominent West Chicago families.

Local businessman Joel Wiant had the home built around 1869. His family owned the house until it was purchased in the early 1900s by John W. Leedle, West Chicago's first city attorney.

By the time a bank foreclosed on the property in July 2011, the house had fallen into disrepair. The city spent $260,000 to buy the property in November 2011.

Now that it owns the house, the community center is investing $350,000 to $400,000 of its own money.

Sabathne says the group plans to return the house to a useful purpose with office and commercial space on the first floor and a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor.

Eventually, the community center will sell the building.

"It doesn't meet our organization's mission to hold the building as an investment," Sabathne said. "Our mission is preservation and education. This process is allowing us to do both those things."

• DuPage County Photo Director Scott Sanders contributed to this report.

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