Wheaton Museum struggling without city funding

An unobtrusive entrance along Front Street in downtown Wheaton is the only indication that beyond the door and up the stairs is a treasure trove of city history.

It's been four years since staff with the Center for History, run by the Wheaton Historic Preservation Council, converted space above Gino's East pizzeria into a museum with three galleries for exhibits, a gift shop and collections storage at 315 W. Front St.

There isn't a permanent sign outside to draw customers. And the Center for History can't afford to buy one.

In fact, the center can't afford many things these days.

Alberta Adamson, the center's president and CEO, said the museum has been unable to raise the roughly $20,000 a month it needs to operate its locations, including a house at 606 N. Main St. and storage space in Glen Ellyn.

The center's financial reserves have been depleted. And Adamson, who is the center's last remaining staff member, hasn't been paid since April.

The situation is so critical the center could be forced to close later this year.

"We hope it doesn't come to that, because the public wants us," said Adamson, as she stood in the Front Street location's "Fairways, Greens & Clubs" golf exhibit, which traces the history of American golf in the Chicago area.

Center officials are hoping the Wheaton City Council will reinstate an agreement that paid the center $225,000 annually to preserve and promote local history.

When the previous agreement was terminated by the council last year, the center lost about 50 percent of its operating budget.

"What's sad is they have an obligation to the citizens of Wheaton to preserve the history," Adamson said. "They hired us to do it, and we did a darn good job. We still are doing a good job. But we can't do it without some financial support."

Despite receiving dozens of postcards from supporters over the past few weeks, the council remains noncommittal on the center's request for assistance. There are no plans to discuss it, city officials said Wednesday.

Mayor Michael Gresk said there's simply not enough votes on the council to approve a plan to give the center more money.

Councilman Phil Suess said the problem is the city shouldn't support a private entity. He said the nearly $3 million that Wheaton has given the museum previously is enough.

"It's been represented that we have an obligation to fund them," he said. "That's not correct."

Bill Schultz, who serves on the Center for History's board of directors, said other towns provide financial support for their museums. Wheaton officials should want to help preserve the center's approximately 45,000 historic objects, he said.

"Most of the people I talk to are astonished that the city is not supporting its history," Schultz said. "The city should help fund us so we can continue to put on programs that the people continue to want."

Wheaton's Center for History might be forced to close later this year unless the Wheaton City Council resurrects a contract with the facility. The museum operates out of two locations, including one at 315 W. Front St. Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer
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