Lake County's Lakewood buildings listed among most endangered historic places
The former farm buildings that house the Lake County Discovery Museum and other uses in Wauconda were included Wednesday on a preservation group's 2016 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois.
Lakewood Farms, which was developed in the 1930s and later sold to the Lake County Forest Preserve District, is in danger of demolition and needs intervention to be saved, according to Landmarks Illinois, a not-for-profit advocate for architectural and cultural landmarks.
A list of 11 endangered places was announced at a Springfield news conference. In the suburbs, it includes neighborhood schools slated for closure in Highland Park and two vacant buildings at the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles.
The complex at the Lakewood Forest Preserve -- the district's largest at 2,805 acres -- houses the Curt Teich Postcard Archives and includes a barn, silos and outbuildings. A large show barn, chicken coop and the bull barn remain as part of the museum complex.
The district is pursuing steps to transfer ownership of the renowned postcard collection and will close the museum for about a year beginning Sept. 1, to relocate the collections and other materials to the main office in Libertyville.
That will leave the future of the Lakewood buildings -- constructed as part of a model gentleman's farm -- in doubt, according to Landmarks Illinois.
"Forest preserve districts have a mandate to conserve open space and prioritize funding toward that mission," according to the listing. "Recognizing this mandate and the challenge to find adequate funding for maintaining and rehabilitating historic buildings, when it is not part of the core mission, Landmarks Illinois urges the Forest Preserves Board to set forth a process for seeking community input and soliciting potential users to rehabilitate and occupy the buildings under purchase or lease agreements."
Whether the listing will make any difference is hard to tell. Several years ago, interest by outside entities in using the facilities dried up when it was made known the district would not pay for the operating and maintenance costs, said Mike Tully, chief operations officer.
Costs to repair the museum were estimated at $5.25 million in 2010. At the time, the forest board determined the museum and Teich archives building should be evaluated as part of a master plan for Lakewood, and be mothballed or removed if no use was determined. The master plan process has been delayed.
In 2014, an assessment of the museum and postcard archives estimated options for short- and long-term renovation and new construction at the site ranging from $3.8 million to $15.4 million. District officials decided not to operate the museum in the buildings, but a formal decision of what to do with them has not been made, Tully added.
Last fall, there was a discussion of buildings the staff recommended the district keep "forever" but no Lakewood buildings were on the list.
Landmarks Illinois concluded the buildings could serve as educational, training or event uses, but will survive only with public/private partnerships. It also noted the slow economic recovery, state budget crisis and lack of financing was a challenge to historic sites throughout Illinois.