Old Nichols Library, Mill Race Inn, Waldorf Tabernacle on endangered list

If there's one theme in a new list of the state's most endangered places, it's the nostalgia for old gathering places that face an uncertain future in the suburbs.

Naperville's first public library, a turn-of-the-century Methodist tabernacle in Des Plaines and the last remnant of Geneva's former Mill Race Inn are among the suburban structures that made the annual roster by Landmarks Illinois.

The nonprofit group announced the list Wednesday morning at a news conference in Springfield, flagging sites that its advocates say run the risk of demolition, further decay or inappropriate development.

The group's attention provides a boost to preservationists who already are trying to protect architectural gems and one-time social centers from falling to the wrecking ball.

"These endangered places still have value in providing a venue for personal connections, where we can get to know our neighbors and work together to solve problems," Landmarks President and CEO Bonnie McDonald said in a statement. "With some creativity, vision and committed investment, these endangered properties can be preserved and reused."

A third of all sites included on the roster over the past 24 years have been saved from demolition, while less than a quarter have been bulldozed. McDonald said 75 percent of the 280 listed places are still standing.

Here's a closer look at the suburban places on this year's list:

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. Courtesy of Naperville Public Library

Old Nichols Library

A group called Save Old Nichols successfully worked last September to secure local landmark status for the 1890s-era, Richardsonian Romanesque building in downtown Naperville.

The designation by the city protects only the main facade. And work to demolish a portion of the library - a 1962 addition and part of the eastern wall - is under way as the building's owners make room for future development.

The owners are working on plans for a mixed-use center with retail on the ground floor and residences above. But preservationists hope for an "adaptive reuse" with a new tenant who would make the most of the building's historical features.

"Right now, we are working hard behind the scenes," Save Old Nichols President Becky Simon said in Springfield. "We are trying to work with capital management groups who could potentially be interested in purchasing the property and giving it a new life."

A spokeswoman for the owners, Jeff Brown of T2 Capital Management and Dwight Avram of Avram Builders, issued a statement Wednesday in response to the listing.

"The owners of the library agree on the importance of preserving the structure and have been working very closely with city officials and the Historic Preservation Commission as they develop new plans," the statement read. "They have been listening and will continue to listen to input from others."

A 19th-century building - the only structure still standing on the site of the former Mill Race Inn complex - also made the roster of the state's most endangered places. Property owners want to demolish it, but Geneva residents are seeking local landmark status. Courtesy of Rich Hayhurst

Mill Race Inn

The Geneva icon opened along the east bank of the Fox River during the Great Depression but would not survive another economic downturn and closed in 2011. A limestone building is the only structure still standing on the site of the dining spot, and it's definitely in danger.

The Geneva City Council is scheduled to vote May 7 on whether to make the structure - dating to at least 1846 - a city landmark.

  Geneva's Mill Race Inn restaurant complex closed its doors seven years ago. Rick West/, 2007

If rejected, the landowners' application to raze the deteriorating structure - in limbo since late December - can proceed. If it is made a local landmark, the city's Historic Preservation Commission would have to sign off on the demolition, adding another layer of scrutiny to the project.

The removal of the post-1946 wood additions about two years exposed the original building. The owners argue that the one-story structure has lost historical significance due to those alterations and fires.

Landmarks Illinois has sent a letter to the city urging the building be spared and offered its expertise for a restoration.

  The Amasa White house, built in 1843, was listed Wednesday as an endangered historical building by the Landmarks Illinois preservation group on the grounds of the former Kane County jail off Fabyan Parkway. Brian Hill/

Amasa White House

The limestone house stands vacant on property owned by Kane County. In 2006, then-county board Chairman Karen McConnaughay suggested the empty building could be converted to a county visitor information center. It is on the property of the former Kane County jail, and at the time, county officials were talking about building a hotel on the site.

But Landmarks Illinois says the Greek Revival house and the Mill Race Inn building offer an early link to Geneva's past. Amasa White, a member of the Whig Party, settled in the area in the 1830s, city records show.

"These sites represent both commercial and residential development during Geneva's early settlement years, are humble in nature and exhibit the vernacular architecture being constructed by Geneva's first Eastern United States and European settlers," the group notes.

The Waldorf Tabernacle, built in 1903, sits in the heart of the Historic Methodist Campground of Des Plaines. Daily Herald file photo

Waldorf Tabernacle

Built in 1903, the circular building anchors the Des Plaines Historic Methodist Campground, where worshippers would flock by the thousands to hear traveling revivalists preachers in summer camp meetings.

Redevelopment plans for the flood-prone grounds call for a regional education center for sustainability and permaculture studies.

The tabernacle - named after Methodist Bishop Ernest Lynn Waldorf - needs substantial repairs to be reused.

• Daily Herald staff writer Marie Wilson contributed to this report

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