Naperville library board supports preserving old library building

  • 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 of a local landmark status application and the focus of a redevelopment proposal.

    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 of a local landmark status application and the focus of a redevelopment proposal. Courtesy of Naperville Public Library

 
 
Posted7/20/2017 5:30 AM

Preservationists who want to keep the old Nichols Library building intact found an ally in the Naperville Public Library board.

Members voted Wednesday to post a letter on the library's website stating support for efforts to preserve the 119-year-old structure that housed the city's first library and designate it a local landmark.

 

Preservation could protect the building at 110 S. Washington St. from a proposal that would tear it down but incorporate its facade into a new mixed-use development that Dwight Avram of Avram Builders says would honor the library's history and the contributions of the man who donated to create it.

"The Nichols Library on Washington is not just the foundation of the public library, it is also part of the foundation of the community, an icon of the history of Naperville itself," the library board wrote in its letter to the city council, which members planned to sign Wednesday night and post online shortly.

The library's support for preservation comes as various city commissions are beginning to consider two requests related to the property -- one from Avram Builders to increase the square footage of new building that could be constructed on the site, and another from preservationists Charlie Wilkins and Barb Hower to designate the existing building a local landmark and safeguard its exterior from visible changes without review.

The variance to allow a larger building is scheduled to be reviewed by the planning and zoning commission Aug 2. The landmark designation request will be considered by the historic preservation commission, likely beginning Aug. 22. Both decisions would need city council approval to become final.

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While both requests are pending, library board members said it's important to voice support for the structure where the city's literary lending services began, where books still were hosted until roughly 30 years ago.

The library that started with a $10,000 donation from James Lawrence Nichols, a Naperville teacher, businessman and author in the 1800s, now hosts half a million visits and circulates 4.2 million materials each year at three locations, the board wrote in its letter.

"The Naperville Public Library board of trustees supports the efforts to designate 110 S. Washington as a local landmark," the letter states. "The board further supports efforts calling on the city of Naperville to refrain from the demolition, destruction or alteration of the building."

Becky Simon, one of the preservationists supporting the landmark designation, told the library board Wednesday the group plans to host a public forum in mid-August, likely at the current Nichols Library at 200 W. Jefferson Ave., to share renderings of alternative uses for the space and findings from an interior assessment.

Avram Builders already has posted information about its plans to turn the site into Nichols Place, with 80,000 square feet of shops, restaurants, offices, condos and parking, on the website https://oldnicholsinfo.com/.

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