Preservationists scrambling to raise money to save Wheaton mansion

  • A photo taken from the Daily Herald drone shows the Loretto Convent in relation to neighboring homes to the west.

    A photo taken from the Daily Herald drone shows the Loretto Convent in relation to neighboring homes to the west. Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer, March 2017

  • The House of Seven Gables, a historic home on the Loretto Convent property in Wheaton, could be saved as part of an agreement coming before the Wheaton Park District board Wednesday night.

    The House of Seven Gables, a historic home on the Loretto Convent property in Wheaton, could be saved as part of an agreement coming before the Wheaton Park District board Wednesday night. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, February 2017

  • Preservationists are trying to save the House of Seven Gables, shown in a 1911 postcard, from demolition on the 16-acre Loretto Convent property, where developers plan to build 48 homes.

    Preservationists are trying to save the House of Seven Gables, shown in a 1911 postcard, from demolition on the 16-acre Loretto Convent property, where developers plan to build 48 homes. Courtesy of Nancy Flannery

 
 
Updated 5/29/2017 7:14 PM

Wheaton Park District leaders and preservationists would have to raise roughly $1 million under a proposal to relocate and restore a historic mansion slated for demolition on the Loretto Convent campus.

Park commissioners are considering whether to join forces with a group of local history buffs to save the House of Seven Gables at the eleventh hour.

 

If the deal falls apart, developers of the Loretto Convent are set to tear down the 19th-century structure by early July to make way for a subdivision of ranch-style homes for empty nesters and retirees at 1600 Somerset Lane.

Despite the tight deadline, a fundraising campaign appears to be gaining momentum. The park district and city of Wheaton could contribute a combined $264,000 for the project. Last Friday, a group of private donors identified by the DuPage Foundation promised $100,000. And an anonymous donor also will give $50,000 if the effort receives another $100,000 in pledges.

But that still leaves preservationists about $500,000 short of the initial target ahead of a park board meeting Wednesday night on whether to move forward with an agreement with developers to acquire the mansion.

"My expectation is that, unless very significant and confirmed donations and pledges are in place to cover the entire estimated cost of moving and restoring the mansion by meeting time May 31, the park board will either defer the action related to the property only one more week or choose to suspend consideration," parks Executive Director Michael Benard said in an email Monday.

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Benard also noted that "some park board members have serious concerns about the proposed location of the mansion and the possible future impact on parking and traffic congestion in the neighborhood should it be operated as a rental facility."

He expects those concerns will play "an important part in the outcome" of the board's decision.

Wolfe House & Building Movers estimates that relocating the brick, Tudor Revival mansion from the Loretto Convent to the far western edge of neighboring Seven Gables Park could cost about $228,000. The company has moved historic landmarks across the country.

The total project could cost $1 million, according to preliminary estimates. That price tag includes:

• $180,000 for designs, excavation and construction of a new foundation

• $300,000 for utility connections

• $200,000 for a new heating and air-conditioning system

The Wheaton City Council about a month ago approved the project by Pulte Homes to redevelop the Loretto campus, a secluded, 16-acre property owned by Catholic nuns since 1946. Pulte also plans to bulldoze a 1950s-era chapel, where a boiler now provides heat for the mansion.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Rob Getz, the company's director of land acquisitions, told the park board last week that developers need the mansion off the property -- either by demolition or relocation -- by July 10, so that crews can complete site grading and roadwork before asphalt plants close in the fall.

After a week of preparations, relocating the two-story mansion itself -- an engineering feat -- would last three weeks. That means movers would have to start staging on the property by June 12, Getz said.

But a group of preservationists say they are determined to raise the money to convert the mansion into a venue that would host weddings and banquets. Champ Davis, a Hinsdale Historical Society board member, is helping organize a national search for donors who could have ties to Jarvis Hunt, the building's Harvard-educated architect. Individual contributions also can be made online at https://quickclick.com/r/7nl9j.

Davis said some contributors could be recognized with naming rights.

"We are working around the clock to marshal the necessary resources to complete the project," Davis said Monday.

History buffs have called the mansion an irreplaceable work of Hunt. Built in 1897, the house was part of the "Colony," an exclusive neighborhood of summer cottages for members of the private Chicago Golf Club, the first 18-hole course in the country.

Steel magnate Jay Morris commissioned Hunt to design the home for his daughter. The aging structure features a gabled slate roof, ornate wood carvings and painted beams.

Pulte hired architectural consultant Jean Guarino to complete a survey of buildings designed by Hunt in Wheaton. Guarino identified six structures, including the Chicago Golf clubhouse and the mansion.

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