Could Naperville's first library find a home at Naper Settlement?

Owners of Naperville's newest local landmark, the old Nichols Library, say they hope to choose a course for the future by the end of the year.

One possibility being discussed, after the 119-year-old building was given landmark status in September, is moving it to the city's historical museum village, Naper Settlement.

Jeff Brown, who co-owns the building with Dwight Avram of Avram Builders, said the museum's 12-acre campus at 523 S. Webster St. is one place the former library could end up if it's moved from its spot at 110 S. Washington St.

"We are continuing to have conversations with representatives from the settlement as well as other interested parties about how best to utilize the old Nichols Library going forward," Brown said.

The library, a Richardsonian Romanesque-style stone structure built using money donated by early Naperville teacher and businessman James Lawrence Nichols, was deemed a landmark by a 6-3 vote of the city council.

The status means any exterior changes require a certificate of appropriateness, which can be granted by the historic preservation commission.

When the council gave the landmark designation, it halted two alternate plans: one to move the old library to a grassy field west of the new Nichols Library, facing Jackson Avenue and the Riverwalk; and another to take down the building, but re-use its west-facing facade as part of a mixed-use development.

While those possibilities could be revived, Brown said owners also are considering moving the building to the settlement, among other unspecified options. Owners have been meeting with city council members and Mayor Steve Chirico to help forge a direction.

"They want to look at what their options are, what support they would have," Chirico said. "Any solution is going to be very complicated."

Complicating the thought of moving the building is a south wing built in 1962, which even preservationists don't want to save. The wing was not included in the landmark designation, so it can be torn down without historic preservation commission scrutiny.

Rena Tamayo-Calabrese, president and CEO of the Naper Settlement, said the remaining portion of the old library has only three walls - two originals from 1898 and one from an eastern addition of a reading room in 1939.

"The question really becomes, if we move that library, what does that really entail," she said.

Talks between settlement leaders and old Nichols owners haven't solved the fourth wall issue or determined where on the settlement property the building could fit. Tamayo-Calabrese said the Naperville Heritage Society, which governs the settlement, wants to ensure building owners do their due diligence.

"We encourage them to explore all options," Tamayo-Calabrese said. "We think we're one of them."

Options have been uncertain for two months, since a preservationist group called Save Old Nichols rallied enough support to earn the extra protection that comes with landmark status.

"We've gotten it landmarked, which is something we wanted," said Charlie Wilkins, one of the leaders of Save Old Nichols. "It's in the owner's court now."

As owners, Brown said he and Avram have a variety of considerations. Among them is the intention of the building's tenant, Truth Lutheran Church, to move to a new worship space in January, leaving the old library vacant.

"What we're trying to balance is what's best for the community and yet economically viable for us as developers," Brown said. "We're trying to be collaborative and understand, now that the property is landmarked, what are ideas (city council members) have in mind."

Meanwhile, Save Old Nichols is saying "thank you."

During an open house from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St., group members will set out coffee, tea and cookies as two architects present renderings of what the old library could become.

"These are ideas, possibilities that we're looking at. We're making suggestions," Save Old Nichols leader Becky Simon said. "It's optimism for the future."

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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 has an uncertain future after it was deemed a local landmark in September. Courtesy of Naperville Public Library
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