Library demolition paves the way for expansion of Lombard’s Lilacia Park

Lombard owes a lot to Col. William R. Plum.

A telegrapher during the Civil War, Plum donated his lilac garden for the village’s first park. Every May, hordes of lilac lovers still converge upon that property, Lilacia Park, to take in the sweetly scented blooms and the town’s “Lilac Time” traditions.

While the lilac-covered grounds are in a state of winter slumber, the south end of Lilacia Park is no longer concealed by a library building.

The demolition of the old Helen Plum library ‒ named for the colonel’s wife ‒ also has opened up views of a coach house, one of the few original structures remaining from the Plum estate.

Nearly a century after Plum gave his property to the village, the Lombard Park District is eyeing an expansion of Lilacia (pronounced Lye-lay-sha) Park. The district intends to use the former library site to “add to the beauty of the park,” Executive Director Joe McCann said.

“We're trying to figure out how to incorporate it into the park as tastefully as we can before we can actually fully develop that corner or that site,” McCann said.

Lilacia Park, the heart of “Lilac Time” in Lombard, puts on a show when the aromatic flowers are in bloom. Daily Herald file photo

The park district inked an agreement with the library last year to contribute $350,000 toward the costs of demolishing the building as full payment for acquiring the land. The park district also has agreed to pay $168,000 for the purchase of library-owned lots totaling nearly 17,800 square feet to the west.

The major demolition work appears to have been completed, but there’s still some weather-dependent groundwork to be done before officials can move forward with completing the agreement, McCann said.

The final stage of the project will involve grading work, putting down soil and getting ready to turn over the property to the park, library spokeswoman Sue Wilsey said.

“We do anticipate that the process will be completed before May,” she said.

Lombardians celebrate the blooming season with “Lilac Time,” a show of community pride in May. The flowers are greeted with no less than a parade, the Lilac Queen coronation, park tours and a lilac sale. There’s such an abundance of lilacs in the park, you can get a whiff from across the street.

“It’s a community centerpiece or focal point … but it's also home to one of the largest collections of lilacs in the country as well,” McCann said.

The park district already owned the “air rights” above the Maple Street library under a unique agreement forged in the 1970s, when Helen Plum officials acquired part of Lilacia Park so they could expand the building’s first floor.

Helen Plum trustees later sought to replace the 1960s-era library on the same site next to Lilacia Park. But park district leaders were concerned that a taller building would dwarf the park, deprive the horticultural display of sunlight and pose a threat to the foundation of the coach house. After years of languishing on the drawing board, a new, two-story library opened along Main Street last April.

The village, meanwhile, agreed to take ownership of a library-owned parking lot.

“We feel that it’s really been a benefit for the whole community the way that the agreement was made with the three entities,” Wilsey said.

  Fencing surrounds the demolition site of the former Helen Plum library next to Lilacia Park in Lombard. Paul Valade/

Park district officials are talking about short-term and long-term plans for the cleared land. The district also expects to bring in a landscape architect.

“There's been a lot of communitywide cooperation to get to this point,” McCann said.

The district also will gather public feedback on how to develop the additional space at Maple Street and Park Avenue, McCann said, knowing “what this park means to the community.”

“It's just a gathering space for the community to come together and enjoy the community garden that was given to the park district nearly 100 years ago,” he said.

When Plum died in 1927, his will established the park, thereafter making Lombard the “Lilac Village.”

  Lombard's former Helen Plum library has been razed next to Lilacia Park (on left). A coach house was originally built as part of the Colonel William R. Plum estate. Paul Valade/
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