Group seeks local landmark status for former Naperville library

Preservationists who don't want to see the former Nichols Library in Naperville turned into condos and stores are asking to have the 119-year-old building be designated a local landmark.

A group that refers to itself as Save Old Nichols filed the application Monday, and it's now under review by the city's planning department.

Landmark status would require any exterior changes that are visible from the street to be reviewed by the historic preservation commission and the city council and granted a certificate of appropriateness, said Allison Laff, deputy director of transportation, engineering and development.

Preservationists with Save Old Nichols say the landmark designation would prevent the property's new owner, Naperville-based Avram Builders, from developing the site at 110 S. Washington St. into an 80,000-square-foot center of retail, restaurants, offices and condos called Nichols Place.

"If it has landmark status, you can't just go in and demolish it," said Barb Hower, who helped Naperville resident Charlie Wilkins complete the landmark application. "It really adds a layer of protection to the building."

Two versions of Nichols Place plans both would preserve the western facade and vestibule of the historic former library, as is required under a covenant on the deed of the property created in 1992 when the city sold the building to its former owner, Truth Lutheran Church.

Both versions of the developer's plans also would include a public gallery highlighting the significance of the library and the man who seeded the money to create it, early Naperville businessman, teacher and author James Lawrence Nichols.

Details of the plans are available at

Avram Builders spokeswoman Deb Newman says this approach would honor the well-known western facade, bring the vestibule up to code and preserve the story of Nichols and the library he helped create for another 100 years.

But preservationists such as Hower say it's not enough to "peel and stick" the front of the 1898 building onto a much larger and more modern structure.

"I really would be heartbroken to see that," Lisa Eales told the city council Tuesday as she and four others asked members to look favorably on the landmark application.

"I think we have a pretty good groundswell of interest in saving this building," Hower said.

A petition in favor of preserving the building had 924 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

If city staff members determine the landmark application is complete, the request first will be considered by the historic preservation commission, a nine-member panel that reviews potential projects at local landmarks and 320 structures within the city's historic district to decide whether they are appropriate for each building's design and character.

The commission will make a recommendation that will be taken up by the city council.

If the old Nichols Library is deemed a local landmark, it would become the fourth structure in the city to receive such status. Existing local landmarks include the Truitt house at 48 E. Jefferson Ave., the Thomas Clow House at 5212 Book Road and the Naperville Woman's Club near the Nichols building at 14 S. Washington St.

Developer to unveil plans to replace historic library

Visions differ for future of former Nichols Library in Naperville

Naperville's first public library opened in 1898 at 110 S. Washington St., built with a $10,000 donation from Naperville teacher, author and businessman James Lawrence Nichols. The structure, now 119 years old, is the subject of a local landmark status application and the focus of a redevelopment proposal. Courtesy of Naperville Public Library
In past decades, the building at 110 S. Washington St. has been Naperville's first public library and a Lutheran church. Now, it's the focus of competing ideas - a redevelopment proposal from a Naperville builder and a local landmark status application from a group of preservationists. Courtesy of Naperville Public Library
One option for the proposed redevelopment of the historic former Nichols Library in downtown Naperville includes the 1898 building's western facade in the center of a new mixed-use facility for retail, offices and condos facing Washington Street. Courtesy of Avram Builders and Kluber Architects & Engineers
Another option for the proposed redevelopment of the historic former Nichols Library in downtown Naperville includes the 1898 building's western facade at its current location, which places it on the north side of an 80,000-square-foot mixed use center for retail, offices and condos. Courtesy of Avram Builders and Kluber Architects & Engineers
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