Libertyville residents raise funds to paint local landmark

  • Painting contractor Mike Foley, left, and financial planner Roch Tranel want to raise $20,000 to paint and repair the Ansel B. Cook house in downtown Libertyville.

      Painting contractor Mike Foley, left, and financial planner Roch Tranel want to raise $20,000 to paint and repair the Ansel B. Cook house in downtown Libertyville. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • The Ansel B. Cook house in downtown Libertyville is in need of a new coat of paint and extensive repairs. Two village residents are spearheading an effort to raise funds to pay for much of the work.

      The Ansel B. Cook house in downtown Libertyville is in need of a new coat of paint and extensive repairs. Two village residents are spearheading an effort to raise funds to pay for much of the work. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Removing mildew from the cornice of the Ansel B. Cook house in Libertyville is part of the extensive work needed. Libertyville residents Mike Foley and Roch Tranel want to raise $20,000 to paint and repair the landmark.

      Removing mildew from the cornice of the Ansel B. Cook house in Libertyville is part of the extensive work needed. Libertyville residents Mike Foley and Roch Tranel want to raise $20,000 to paint and repair the landmark. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/29/2011 5:08 PM

As he has done countless times over more than 25 years in the painting business, Mike Foley carefully assessed the work involved to bring the exterior of the big building up to snuff.

Cracks in the masonry, rotting wood, mildew, peeling paint and failed caulk were wearing on the old Victorian-style home and would need to be fixed -- a big job that could run an estimated $50,000.

 

Foley considered other details, such as the village of Libertyville's ownership of the property, its location and what it means to the heritage of the community he's called home since 1987.

And he also considered that despite the local prominence of the Ansel B. Cook house, the village would be hard pressed to find the funds for the work.

"I was very disheartened. This is our town. This is our centerpiece," Foley said of the structure which sits back from Milwaukee Avenue overlooking Cook Park, a serene and popular community gathering place downtown.

But instead of just lamenting the property's present state, Foley is doing something about it, launching the "Paint the Town Foundation" to raise $20,000 to cover some of the costs of improving the landmark home.

"There are angels stepping up in other towns. Why can't we do that?"

Foley, founder of DiVinci Painters in Highland Park, started the effort with Roch Tranel, an old friend and Libertyville resident, who is involved in a variety of community activities.

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"It's a jewel of the community," Tranel said of the Cook house. "I think we feel we're trying to preserve some of the history."

Foley said he already has commitments for paint and materials and will supply the labor at cost. The duo earlier this month received village board approval to conduct a fundraising campaign.

"Right now we can't afford to do the work we should be doing on it," said Mayor Terry Weppler, a lawyer whose office faces the park and the mansion. "We were getting prices on it, that's how they found out about it."

The home, originally known as Mapleside, was built on the site of Libertyville's first settlement in 1878 for Cook, a schoolteacher turned wealthy masonry contractor. He lived on and off in Chicago and was involved in many prominent projects there, including the Water Tower.

Cook died in 1898 and the home and adjoining property was deeded to the village in 1920, with the stipulation that it be used as a library and the park be kept as a "fitting site" for it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Adapting the house for a library wasn't easy, however, as there were no funds immediately available. So leading citizens put on plays and shows and solicited donations to make it happen.

The original porch was removed and replaced with a Colonial-style pillared porch, and the home was covered with stucco. A library opened there in 1921 and operated until 1968, when a new facility was built to the west. Today the house is operated as a museum by the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.

In 2001, the Cook house was recognized with designation on the National Register of Historic Places for its use as a library.

Foley estimates the home last received a full restoration about 15 years ago. The work is expected to take about six weeks and will involve the use of an expert to look beneath the estimated 20 to 30 layers of paint under its current cream color.

"What were calling it is a restoration project," Foley said. "We're going to bring it back to the same color scheme as when it was originally built."

Foley and Tranel will be making the rounds of community groups and doing historical research as part of the effort.

"It's our town's landmark," said Arlene Lane, a historical society member and research librarian for the Cook Memorial Public Library District. "It will be wonderful to have it restored."

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