McKee House group, Elmhurst Art Museum receive Landmarks Illinois preservation grants

Glen Ellyn preservationists trying to spare the McKee House from demolition got a boost Tuesday from a nonprofit group that will provide funding for repairs to the historic structure.

Landmarks Illinois will award a $2,000 matching grant to preservationists for roofing work on the 82-year-old limestone building that maintains a link to an early chapter in the history of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. The Chicago-based group named four other recipients - two with suburban ties - of the latest round of contributions made through its Preservation Heritage Fund Grant Program.

The Landmarks Illinois executive board approved the funding last week. The McKee group will receive the money after it signs a grant agreement and shows evidence that preservationists can raise the matching funds, among other requirements.

The Elmhurst Art Museum also received a $5,000 grant for restoration of the original entrance to the 1950s-era McCormick House, a work of prominent architect Mies van der Rohe. A third suburban recipient, the Bolingbrook Historic Preservation Commission, will get a $1,300 grant for headstone restoration at the Boardman Cemetery.

Last year, Landmarks Illinois placed the McKee House on its annual list of the state's most endangered historic places. The Colonial Revival-style house, once used by the forest district's first superintendent, Robert McKee, has been at risk of falling to the wrecking ball for years.

Built in 1936 through the Works Progress Administration, a hallmark of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs, the deteriorating, two-story house has sat vacant since 2002.

The matching grant comes weeks after forest district commissions and Glen Ellyn trustees agreed to move up the starting date to lease the McKee House and other buildings at the Churchill Woods Forest Preserve. The preservationist group requested the changes to the lease agreement after raising concerns that the original 2019 date was hampering fundraising efforts to repair the McKee House.

"It's difficult for the McKee Preservation Group to raise money if the village doesn't take possession until 2019," forest preserve district Commissioner Tim Whelan said this month. "Any donor looking at it is going to say, 'You can't even do anything until 2019.'"

DuPage County Forest Preserve District commissioners last May approved an agreement that allows Glen Ellyn to lease two fleet maintenance buildings at Churchill Woods for storage for 50 years. Glen Ellyn will begin leasing the buildings as soon as the forest district moves its fleet operations into a new facility near Warrenville later this year.

But the private group still faces a tight window to raise $400,000 toward the McKee House restoration. If fundraisers don't meet an October 2019 deadline, the village would pay to demolish the building.

A 2013 study commissioned by the forest district found the building was structurally sound, but estimated the costs to "stabilize" it at $230,000, according to a memo last year to the Glen Ellyn village board. Renovations could range from $1.3 million to $2 million, the study found.

• Daily Herald staff writer Robert Sanchez contributed to this report

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